Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Innocence Is No Defense

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

Letter Appended

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 812, 24 October 2003

The following statement was issued by the Partisan Defense Committee, a legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League, on October 19.

On October 8, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court yet again ruled that a court of law is no place for evidence of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s innocence. That evidence—centered on the sworn testimony of Arnold Beverly that he, not Jamal, shot and killed police officer Daniel Faulkner on 9 December 1981—blasts through all the cover-ups and lies used by the state to put Jamal on death row for a crime he did not commit.

The testimony of Beverly, who has allowed his confession to be recorded on video, is corroborated not merely by a series of affidavits but as Jamal’s attorneys described, “a stack of memoranda approximately the size of a New York City phonebook” written by PDC counsel Rachel Wolkenstein and Jonathan Piper, another attorney associated with the PDC. Yet it has been ruled out of order by both the Pennsylvania courts where Jamal has sought to overturn his sentence under the state’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA), and the federal judiciary which has turned down Jamal’s habeas corpus appeals and slammed shut the courtroom doors on evidence of Mumia’s innocence.

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is a textbook example of a racist frame-up. A Black Panther Party spokesman at the age of 15, an award-winning journalist and a supporter of the Philadelphia MOVE organization, Jamal was saddled at trial with a lawyer he didn’t want—and one who did not want Mumia’s case—a judge, Albert Sabo, known as the “king of death row,” an overwhelmingly white jury, a prosecutor’s office that concealed and fabricated evidence and a parade of witnesses who were coerced by the notorious Philadelphia police into giving lying testimony against Mumia.

Jamal’s innocence has been evident from the outset. We have repeatedly exposed the D.A.’s case, which rested on three legs; eyewitness accounts that were secured through police manipulation, coercion and outright terror; a purported “confession” by Jamal while he was lying near death in the hospital, which didn’t surface until two months after the killing; ballistics “evidence” concocted by the police that the bullets that killed Faulkner were fired from Jamal’s gun.

This is Texas lynch law justice—up North. Not only did the court bar Beverly’s confession but rejected the sworn account of court stenographer Terri Maurer-Carter of a conversation she overheard in the courthouse where Mumia was tried, in which Judge Sabo declared in regard to Jamal’s case, “I’m going to help them fry the n----r.” As Jamal’s legal papers stated:

“Judge Sabo’s vile racist comment...meant that, in Judge Sabo’s courtroom, Mr. Jamal, like Dred Scott before him, was not a citizen with rights guaranteed to him by the Constitution, but rather an inferior being with ‘no rights which the white man was bound to respect’.”

The court justified its refusal to even consider Maurer-Carter’s testimony by claiming the issue of Sabo’s bias had already been litigated and ruled upon in Mumia’s 1995 PCRA appeal—before the same Judge Sabo, who exonerated himself of any racist animosity and prejudice toward Mumia!

This latest setback appears to terminate Mumia’s appeals before the Pennsylvania state courts, leaving only his habeas corpus appeals in the federal courts. Those appeals have been on hold pending the recent ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Nearly two years ago federal court judge William Yohn overturned Jamal’s death sentence while affirming the conviction, condemning him to a life of prison hell. Jamal’s attorneys appealed that decision, seeking to overturn the conviction. The state appealed as well, seeking to reinstate the sentence of death. Still on death row, Mumia remains just a short walk and maybe a few months from the death chamber. Workers, minorities and all opponents of racist capitalist repression must now redouble their efforts to mobilize mass protests centered on the social power of the labor movement to demand: Free Mumia now!

Death Penalty— Capitalist Barbarity

Jamal’s case throws a spotlight on the barbaric, racist death penalty, a form of institutionalized state terror directly descended in the U.S. from the system of black chattel slavery. In the U.S., where the decaying capitalist system offers no future to millions of inner-city youth, the death penalty, the mass incarceration of black men and the elimination of welfare speak to the bourgeoisie’s impulse to genocide. For more than a decade, Democrats and Republicans did everything in their power to increase the number of victims and speed the pace of state-sanctioned murder. In 1993 the Supreme Court ruled in the Texas Herrera case that the execution of an innocent man was not unconstitutional. Such contempt for the lives of the black and Hispanic poor was clearly expressed earlier this year by prosecutor Frank Jung who, when asked by a Missouri Supreme Court judge, “Are you suggesting even if we find Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?” replied, “That’s correct, your Honor.”

Even as scores of men and women condemned to death have proven their innocence and won their freedom in recent years, numerous states have adopted laws with stringent time restrictions on filing death penalty appeals on newly discovered evidence. These restrictions make it virtually impossible for victims of prosecutorial frame-ups to uncover the evidence to prove their innocence of the killing for which they were sentenced to die. Pennsylvania’s law, enacted in 1995 explicitly to cut off Jamal’s appeal rights, provided the pretext for the current court ruling barring Beverly’s confession as untimely. The federal Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed into law by Democratic president Clinton in 1996, was the pretext for federal court judge Yohn also barring Beverly’s testimony in Jamal’s habeas corpus appeal.

Using these laws, the capitalist rulers send black, Hispanic and working-class men and women to their graves as if it were no more than a question of an overdue library book. In opposing Jamal’s motion for a stay of execution during his 1995 appeal the prosecution bared the state’s contempt for Mumia, grotesquely declaring, “The carrying out of a valid death sentence cannot constitute irreparable injury for purposes of requesting a stay”!

The entire history of the state’s vendetta against Jamal reveals that the courts have in fact spurned any provisions of the law that would allow this outspoken champion of the oppressed to walk out of prison a free man. As Jamal’s attorneys explained, his case is governed by the Pennsylvania death penalty statute’s exception to the filing deadline, where “interference by government officials” is responsible for the failure to previously raise a claim. As they demonstrated, in actively working to suppress Beverly’s confession and other evidence of Jamal’s innocence, Jamal’s attorneys at the time, Leonard Weinglass and Daniel Williams, “acted in function, if not in fact, as agents of government officials insofar as their actions served the interests not of petitioner, but of the District Attorney.”

Jamal’s current attorneys utilized information provided in Wolkenstein’s affidavit (reprinted in the PDC pamphlet Mumia Abu-Jamal Is an Innocent Man! [September 2001]), stating, “For nine whole years, attorney Weinglass and attorney Williams did more than any prosecutor could ever do to send Petitioner Jamal to his death. They strangled at birth the evidence which shows that he did not kill Police Officer Faulkner and, in the process, jettisoned numerous other decisive claims for relief.” Wolkenstein and Piper, in fact, resigned from Jamal’s legal team in 1999 precisely over the suppression of the Beverly confession. As she explained in her affidavit, Weinglass’ refusal to proceed with Beverly’s confession and other evidence “was also my final realization that attorney Weinglass would not carry out the defense demanded by our innocent client.”

That Weinglass and Williams played the role of prosecutor was set forth for the world to see in the publication two years ago of Williams’ false “inside account” of Jamal’s case, Executing Justice, published shortly before Beverly’s confession was submitted to court. Williams’ declaration that Beverly’s confession was “lunacy” was the core argument used by prosecutors in fighting to keep this conclusive evidence of Mumia’s innocence out of court.

The court didn’t merely reject the argument that Weinglass and Williams were acting as agents of the state, but pronounced that it wouldn’t even matter if they were. According to this court, five of whose members are former prosecutors, the state’s interests are not inimical to those of Jamal (or any other defendant in a criminal case). “The Commonwealth, having the obligation to seek justice, is not a ‘beneficiary’ of poor defense lawyering”—i.e., they’re claiming that incompetent defense doesn’t benefit the state and its prosecutors!

Among the judges endorsing this ruling is Ronald Castille, who was District Attorney at the time when his subordinate Jack McMahon made an infamous videotape instructing members of the D.A.’s office on how to exclude blacks from juries. Castille was the D.A. opposing Jamal’s first appeal, and was later one of the members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court who turned down Jamal’s appeal of Sabo’s denial of his PCRA in 1997. A number of defendants have had their convictions overturned on the basis of this racist jury-rigging—but not Mumia. Castille has blocked every effort by Jamal to determine his role in the production of the McMahon video.

The court’s lie that the prosecutors are just impartial truth seekers was shared as well by Weinglass and Williams. Williams’ entire book is an articulation of the idea that the capitalist state is some kind of neutral arbiter, expressing and defending the interests of all the people. But the state is not neutral. It is the instrumentality for organized violence by one class, the capitalist rulers, against the working class and all those at the bottom of this society. In the U.S., this is expressed in the terror and frame-ups carried out by viciously racist, brutal and corrupt police.

Williams’ hatchet job reflects the views of a layer of liberals whose function is to refurbish the credentials of the capitalist “law and order” system by curbing its “excesses” and giving it the appearance of fairness. They ignore the overwhelming evidence that Mumia is innocent and instead speak of his supposed “guilt.” Among the latest examples is Dave Lindorff, who writes for CounterPunch and the Nation and recently authored the book Killing Time, and filmmaker Michael Moore, who declares in his recent book, Dude, Where’s My Country?, that Mumia “probably killed” Faulkner but “that does not mean he should be denied a fair trial or that he should be put to death.” It is precisely to appeal to such liberals that the reformist left, most notably Socialist Action and the Workers World Party, subordinated any call for Jamal’s freedom to the demand for a “new trial” for Mumia—as if he could get a fair trial in the racist capitalist courts.

The latest ruling against Jamal underscores—again—that for a defiant and outspoken opponent of this racist system like Jamal, there is no justice in the capitalist courts. As we explained in the introduction to the pamphlet Mumia Abu-Jamal Is an Innocent Man!: “The long hidden and suppressed evidence of Mumia’s innocence is the truth. But in this capitalist system of injustice, the truth is insufficient to secure Jamal’s freedom. What we need is not just more truth but more social power. It is elementary that if labor’s power is to be brought to bear in a mighty blow on Jamal’s behalf, it must be mobilized independently of the very forces of the capitalist state that have worked for years to frame up and kill this innocent man.” Mobilize now to free Mumia! Abolish the racist death penalty!

Letter: On Dave Lindorff and Mumia Abu-Jamal

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 814, 21 November 2003

New York City
16 November 2003

To the Editor:

In the Partisan Defense Committee statement "Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!" (WV No. 812, 24 October), author Dave Lindorff was cited, along with filmmaker Michael Moore, as one of those liberals who "ignore the overwhelming evidence that Mumia is innocent and instead speak of his supposed 'guilt'." It was inexact to equate the views of Moore—who says Mumia "probably killed" the police officer for whose 1981 murder he was framed—with those of Lindorff, whose recent article in CounterPunch (17 October) criticized Moore for this. In fact, Lindorff has played a far more pernicious role than Moore.

When Arnold Beverly's confession that he, not Mumia, killed Officer Faulkner was finally presented in court after being suppressed for two years by Mumia's former lawyers, Daniel Williams and Leonard Weinglass, Lindorff was an early and loud voice trashing this clear evidence of Mumia's innocence. His book Killing Time (2003) excoriates Mumia for firing the traitors Williams and Weinglass, attacks the competence of his subsequent legal team for seeking to present the Beverly confession and calls Mumia "to some extent—as his nemesis, prosecutor McGill, puts it—also 'the architect of his own destruction'." In an afterword coyly titled "So...Did He Do It or Not?" Lindorff says, "I don't think the evidence has ever been there that Mumia Abu-Jamal was a first-degree murderer," then concludes: "But did he actually shoot Faulkner? The answer has to be maybe." No! Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man! In racist America, Moore's and Lindorff's hairsplitting over "probably" versus "maybe" can only serve to alibi the U.S. injustice system; exposing such lies is crucial as we seek to mobilize the broadest possible forces, centered on the power of the labor movement, to save Mumia from execution and free him from prison hell.

Paul Cooperstein
for the Partisan Defense Committee

ICL Home Page