Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

"Don't tell me about the valley of the shadow of death. I live there."

So begins the book Live from Death Row, by acclaimed writer and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row for over 15 years for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer. An award-winning journalist, political activist and one-time member of the Black Panther Party, Mumia has faced one miscarriage of justice after another.

In 1981, Mumia stopped a cab he was riding in to try to stop a police officer from assaulting a Black man. The man turned out to be Abu-Jamal's brother - stopped for a minor traffic violation. According to eyewitnesses, an unidentified person shot at officer Daniel Faulkner and fled. Mumia was shot in the chest by Faulkner. Witnesses say that Mumia was left bleeding on the curb for 45 minutes while police officers took turns beating him.

He was charged with the murder of Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death in 1982. But from the start the case was full of holes:

  • Ballistic experts never matched any of the bullets found in Faulkner's body or anywhere on the scene to the gun that allegedly belonged to Mumia. The bullet in Faulkner's brain was a .44-caliber, whereas the gun police say belonged to Mumia was a .38.
  • Police tested the murder weapon for fingerprints but didn't find Mumia's. And Mumia's hands were never tested for powder burns which would indicate he had fired a weapon.
  • Several police witnesses testified that Mumia had confessed on the night of the shooting. But the arresting officer's report mentions no confession. He was conveniently on vacation during the trial, and Judge Albert Sabo rejected a motion to postpone the proceedings until his return.
  • Of more than 125 witnesses interviewed by police, prosecutors found only two who identified Mumia as the person who shot Faulkner. Both witnesses were facing other criminal charges, making them vulnerable to threats - and deals - from the prosecution. One, Cynthia White, changed her story several times before implicating Mumia in the killing.
  • One defense witness, Veronica Jones, testified that police offered her and one of the prosecution witnesses a deal: finger Mumia in court and they could continue to work as prostitutes without being arrested. Judge Sabo ordered these remarks stricken from the court record.
  • Another witness, a white cab driver named Robert Chobert, first reported to police that the shooter was 225 pounds and "ran away" from the scene. Why Chobert changed his story became clear 13 years later, when he admitted that at the time of the shooting he had been driving a taxi cab without a license while on probation for felony arson. Years later, he was still driving his cab without a license, unhindered by police.
  • Four witnesses said that they saw a man other than Mumia flee from the scene of the crime.

The trial was held in Philadelphia - a city where 1,200 cases of police misconduct are under review. More than 300 convictions by Philadelphia courts have been overturned because of manufactured or planted evidence used by police to frame innocent people. At least 137 people have already been found innocent and released from prison after their cases were reviewed.

The judge in Mumia's case, Judge Albert Sabo, has sentenced thirty-two people to death - more than twice the number of people than any other judge in this country. All but two were people of color. The American Lawyer described him as "oozing partiality toward the prosecution" during the Mumia case.

Mumia's 1989 appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was overturned, and his death sentence upheld.

In Mumia's 1990 appeal, the Supreme Court upheld the right of prosecutors to use Mumia's past affiliation with the Black Panther Party in their case against him. Yet 17 months later, the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of a Delaware man because prosecutors had presented at his sentencing hearing evidence of his affiliation with the fascist Aryan Brotherhood.

In June 1995, Mumia filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief (PCRA) seeking a new trial. The evidentiary hearing on his PCRA was held before Judge Sabo, who (surprise!) denied the petition. Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge set an execution date for August of that year, but Mumia got a stay of execution - in large part because of large-scale national and international protest.

Meanwhile, Mumia's defense lawyers have uncovered an avalanche of evidence backing Mumia's innocence.

Mumia appealed Sabo's decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Last August the court sent Mumia's case back to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for additional testimony regarding police misconduct.

On October 1, 1996, Veronica Jones came forward and testified that she had been pressured by police to lie in Mumia's trial. Just as she took the stand to testify to this, Sabo threatened her with seven years in prison for perjury if she gave two conflicting versions under oath. Undeterred, she testified. At the end of her testimony, District Attorney Fisk called in two police officers and had her arrested in the courtroom for having missed a two-year-old court date!

Then, in last June's hearings, Pamela Jenkins, a 16-year-old prostitute and police informant in 1981, testified that she was pressured by police officer Tom Ryan (who was her boyfriend at the time) to identify Mumia as the shooter, even though she was not present at the scene of Faulkner's death.

Now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has denied his appeal for a new trial. Mumia's lawyers will appeal his case at the federal level. Meanwhile, Gov. Ridge has vowed to set a new execution date for Mumia as soon as possible.

Mumia's attorney Leonard Weinglass recently wrote: "For more than 15 years, Mumia, who has lived in the shadow of death, has asserted his innocence. The new information brought in the last two years... supports that claim.

"Once again, the American system of criminal justice is being challenged by issues of race, class and politics. The life of a Black political activist lies threatened by those same forces who have historically urged a national system of intimidation and control.

"Nothing short of a complete vindication for Mumia Abu-Jamal, already too late after 15 years of tortuous incarceration, will prevent yet another injustice in a history already saturated with the blood of innocents."