PA Supreme Court rejects Mumia Abu-Jamal’s PCRA appeal
--Critics say the ruling is unjust
By Hans Bennett (Abu-Jamal-News.com)
On Tuesday, February 19, in a ruling unrelated to the pending US Third Circuit Court decision, The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal of a 2005 ruling by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe, which denied Abu-Jamal’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petition, on grounds that it was not “timely.” (See reports by The Associated Press and Philadelphia Inquirer)
This recent PCRA petition was based on affidavits by two witnesses that did not testify at the original 1982 trial: Yvette Williams and Kenneth Pate. Yvette Williams states that key prosecution witness Cynthia White told her that she had been coerced by police into giving false testimony against Abu-Jamal. Defense witnesses Veronica Jones and Pamela Jenkins have given similar accounts of Cynthia White’s coerced testimony against Abu-Jamal. As Amnesty International has documented, White’s alleged eye-witness account was altered, as each subsequent account given to police further served to support the prosecution scenario used to convict Abu-Jamal. Kenneth Pate says that prosecution witness Priscilla Durham confided to him that she had also lied in court when she stated that she’s heard Abu-Jamal confess at the hospital. Even before Pate’s affidavit, Durham’s account was very suspicious.
The alleged “hospital confession,” where Abu-Jamal reportedly declared, “I shot the motherf***er and I hope the motherf***er dies,” was first officially reported to police over two months later, by hospital guards Priscilla Durham and James LeGrand (Feb. 9, 1982), P.O. Gary Wakshul (Feb.11), P.O. Gary Bell (Feb.25), and P.O. Thomas M. Bray (March 1). Only 2 of these five witnesses were called by the DA: Gary Bell (Faulkner's partner and “best friend”) and Priscilla Durham.
At trial, Gary Bell testified that the 2 month lapse resulted from him being so upset over the death of Faulkner. Priscilla Durham testified, and added for the first time, that she had reported the confession to her supervisor the next day. Neither her supervisor, nor the alleged handwritten statement were presented in court. The DA sent an officer to the hospital, returning with a suspicious typed version. Sabo accepted the paper (not signed) despite both Durham’s disavowal, and the defense’s protest that authorship and authenticity were unproven.
For more on Kenneth Pate and Yvette Williams, please see German author Michael Schiffmann’s 2005 analysis of Judge Pamela Dembe’s ruling.
RESPONSES TO THE COURT’S DECISION Immediately following Tuesday’s news, I asked several people to respond to the court’s decision: Pam Africa, Robert R. Bryan, Dave Lindorff, Michael Schiffmann, and Linn Washington Jr.
PAM AFRICA —Coordinator of The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal
I am not shocked by this decision. The PA Supreme Court has never ruled fairly in Mumia’s case, especially with former Philadelphia DA Ron Castille’s participation.
This should wake people up to see the injustice in Mumia’s case. Why can the media report so quickly on this decision, but not report on the newly discovered crime scene photos? These photos are serious evidence, but the media has ignored them.
The media and courts are complicit in the railroading of Mumia.
I urge readers to please help fight the media bias by going to Abu-Jamal-News.com to see the new photo evidence, downloading the information, and spreading the word, at this urgent time in Mumia’s case.
ROBERT R. BRYAN
—San Francisco, Lead Counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mumia and I had a long conference this afternoon, shortly after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made its ruling. We were not surprised since that court has a history of not addressing the racism and fraud that has dominated the prosecution since its inception over a quarter of a century ago. By dismissing the appeal on procedural grounds, the court avoided dealing with the compelling facts establishing that the prosecution of my client was based upon lies, half-truths, and bigotry. It is sad that the state court used possible mistakes of the previous lawyers in the case as an excuse to dodge the truth.
This state ruling has no bearing on the the proceedings pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. If the federal decision is favorable, then the Pennsylvania Supreme Court judgment will be moot. Otherwise, I plan to seek relief in the U.S. Supreme Court. I will not rest until Mumia is free.
LINN WASHINGTON JR. --Philadelphia Tribune Columnist, Temple University Professor of Journalism, and graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program
This ruling is sad but not surprising. It continues the infamous Pennsylvania Supreme Court tradition in the Abu-Jamal case of abusing law to block justice. Until this Court grants a new trial to Abu-Jamal where both sides can fairly present evidence, any ruling it issues is legally corrupt.
DAVE LINDORFF --Author of "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Common Courage Press, 2003)
It comes as no surprise to hear that the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court has rejected yet another appeal by Mumia Abu-Jamal, the state's longest-surviving death row prisoner. The court, which is led by former Philadelphia D.A. Ron Castille (who helped fight Abu-Jamal's appeals in his role as DA and has yet to recuse himself from decisions involving this case), has never issued a ruling favorable to Abu-Jamal.
That said, it is clear that the prosecution's case was rampant with examples of suborned perjury, from the belated and choreographed lies by police about having heard a shouted out confession in the hospital--an event no nurse or attending physician heard, and which police at the time curiously failed to note in their reports on the evening's events, to "eye-witness" testimony from a taxi driver whose taxi nobody remembers seeing where he said it was--parked directly behind Officer Daniel Faulkner's car. And of course more recently we have the newly discovered news photos showing police tampering with the evidence at the very scene of the crime.
In a fair world, this case would have been tossed out long ago, but as the PA Supreme Court has demonstrated yet again, we do not live in a fair world.
DR. MICHAEL SCHIFFMANN
—German Linguist at The University of Heidelberg, co-founder of Journalists for Mumia, and the author of “Race Against Death; Mumia Abu-Jamal: a Black Revolutionary in White America”
The original decision in May/June 2005 by Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe to dismiss Mumia Abu-Jamal's 3rd PCRA petition was already a travesty of justice. Everything in that decision was tailored to deny Abu-Jamal relief. After sitting on the case for almost four years, the judge deciding it evidently didn't have a clue about the most elementary facts.
That was not necessary, though; all that was needed was to twist the law in such a way that Abu-Jamal wound never have a chance, regardless of what he presented.
Abu-Jamal's 3rd PCRA petition presented testimony by two witnesses that attacked the arguably two single-most important prosecution witnesses at the June/July 1982 Abu-Jamal trial, prostitute Cynthia White and hospital security guard Priscilla Durham. As discussed extensively in work on our website www.abu-jamal-news.com and elsewhere, not least in many, many defense briefs, these witnesses were highly incredible even without that new testimony.
All the same, it was crucially important: New witness Yvette Williams testified that Cynthia White had been blackmailed into fingering Abu-Jamal as the murderer by death threats on the part of the police, and new witness Kenneth Pate testified that Durham had been peer-pressured by the police into falsely accusing Abu-Jamal of having boasted about having "shot the motherfucker" Daniel Faulkner and hoping he would die.
If proven in court, these two new claims in themselves would be enough to prove that the case against Abu-Jamal was hopelessly contaminated right from the start and to explode it once and for all.
By bending even the reactionary new Clinton-era laws to expedite the application of the death penalty out of shape, Judge Dembe at the time concluded that the new evidence was not presented in a "timely" fashion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court now does the same, inventing yet other and different reasons why the evidence is "untimely."
It's not worth going again into the "legal" forks and angles of that new decision. It's a repeat performance of the 2005 Dembe decision which I analyzed at the time and which got a worthy response by the defense, as we now see without avail. What simmers through in every line of those decisions is that one thing always left unsaid: ”WE ARE AFRAID OF THE FACTS.”
But those facts won't go away, if we fight to disseminate them, to get them out into the public sphere, and to have them finally heard on court. That is the most urgent task in the weeks and months to come.
JOURNALISTS FOR MUMIA RELEASES NEW VIDEO: "This government, using corporate media, is laying the groundwork for a murder."
This is also available UNEDITED in two parts on Google Video (1/2, 2/2) and in 11 parts on You Tube: Hans Bennett, David A. Love, Dave Lindorff (1/2, 2/2), Linn Washington, Jr. (1/2, 2/2), Pam Africa (1/2, 2/2), and questions about The Polakoff Photos (1/2, 2/2), Media Bias, and The May 17 Oral Arguments.
Along with The SF Bay View, the photos have now been spotlighted by Reuters, NBC's Today Show, National Public Radio, Indymedia.org, Counterpunch, The Philadelphia Tribune, The Black Commentator, Dissident Voice, Media Channel, Workers World, and The Philadelphia Weekly.
---For more information, please visit the new Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal website: http://Abu-Jamal-News.com
Also visit: FreeMumia.com (NYC Coalition to Free Mumia), FreeMumia.org (San Francisco Mobilization to Free Mumia), EmajOnline.com (Educators for Mumia), PrisonRadio.org (Mumia’s Radio Essays), or contact:
International Concerned Family & Friends of MAJ P.O. Box 19709 Philadelphia, PA 19143 Phone - 215-476-8812/ Fax - 215-476-6180 E-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org