Why a retrial for Mumia Abu-Jamal is necessary…

On December 16, 2022, Judge Lucretia Clemons (Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas) 

Will Hold the Final Hearing Where She Will Grant or Deny Formal Review of New Exculpatory Evidence, Abu-Jamal’s Best Chance at a New Trial

  1. Newly discovered exculpatory evidence reveals that, during Abu-Jamal’s 1982 wrongful conviction trial for the shooting of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, prosecutors failed to provide exculpatory evidence to Abu-Jamal’s defense counsel, as required by law (Brady violation):
  2. A handwritten letter (p. 46) penned by key eyewitness Robert Chobert to prosecutor Joe McGill, discovered in January 2019, asks that Chobert be paid the money he was promised by prosecutor McGill, suggesting Chobert’s testimony was bribed
  3. Photos of the crime scene, discovered in May 2006, taken by freelance photographer Pedro Polakoff within 15 minutes of the shooting 
    1. Showed that purported key eyewitness Robert Chobert was not where he said he was and could not have seen the shooting 
    1. In court Chobert claimed that he had parked his taxicab behind Officer Faulkner’s police car and therefore he (Chobert) was able to see what happened and identify Abu-Jamal as the shooter
    1. The Polakoff photos show there was no taxicab behind Officer Faulkner’s police car
    1. o   The photos further undermined Chobert’s reliability as a witness: Chobert— on parole, facing a possible 30-year prison sentence, and with two DUI convictions, was driving without a license and would scarcely want to be next to a police car.[1]
    1. The Polakoff photos combined with Chobert’s legal vulnerability and the newly discovered letter Chobert penned requesting Joe McGill pay the money promised to Chobert are proof that Robert Chobert lied about where he was and what he saw and indicate that he was likely bribed into testifying against Abu-Jamal
    1. Freelance Photographer Pedro Polakoff studied, for the first time, the photographs he took of the crime scene in May 2006 (at the urging of German Professor Michael Schiffman who discovered them) and changed his mind about Abu-Jamal’s guilt.
  • Memoranda and letters from Philadelphia DA’s office (p. 56) discovered in January 2019 show that prosecutor Joe McGill pursued dismissal of outstanding prostitution charges incurred by the second key witness Cynthia White, which suggests that White’s testimony was either bribed or coerced. Cynthia White had at least 38 prior arrests and 4-5 open criminal cases pending against her. 
  • Presence at the crime scene of Kenneth Freeman, the shooter according to Crimes Investigation Reporter J. Patrick O’Connor, was never disclosed at trial, even though 1) a driver’s license found in Officer Faulkner’s shirt pocket led the police straight to Freeman and 2) Freeman’s presence at the crime scene was acknowledged by the Prosecutor McGill in the related trial of Billy Cook, Mumia’s brother.[2]
  • Police failures to properly handle evidence at the crime scene and subsequent conviction of 15 of the 35 police officers[3] involved in the Abu-Jamal case for corruption, brutality, and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions in concurrent cases:
  • Handled gun with bare hands thereby spoiling fingerprint evidence, and lied about it under oath during the original trial[4]
  • No routine test for gun powder on Abu-Jamal’s hands, which – if conducted— would have conclusively revealed whether or not he fired a gun 
  • No routine analysis of bullet fragment in Officer Faulkner’s body to determine if the gun used in the officer’s murder because the Coroner’s Office lost a key fragment of the bullet
  • There was, therefore, no material evidence pointing to Abu-Jamal as the shooter[5]
  • False claim by police that Abu-Jamal confessed to the murder while being transported in the hospital emergency room. Yet, the official police report prepared by Gary Wakshul, one of the officers who took Abu-Jamal to the hospital the night of the shooting and the officer assigned to stay with Abu-Jamal stated: “The negro male made no comment.”[6] Additionally, Dr. Anthony Coletta, the attending physician who was with Abu-Jamal from the moment he was brought in on a stretcher, attests that Abu-Jamal made no such statement and could hardly talk because he was nearly unconscious after having been shot in the chest by Officer Faulkner and, thereafter, brutally beaten by police who arrived at the scene.
  • Deeply flawed trial and appellate Judge Albert Sabo:
  • A court stenographer, Terri Maurer Carter, reported that she overheard the presiding Judge Sabo in the case talking about how he was going to instruct the jury, “I’m going to help them fry that N….” This from a notorious “hanging judge” who had sentenced more people to capital punishment than any other judge in the U.S.[7]
  • When Abu-Jamal’s case was appealed for violations in the original trial, Sabo came out of retirement to hear an appeal that challenged his own ruling in the case. He clearly should have recused himself.
  • Amnesty International studied the case and concluded that Judge Sabo’s handling of the trial failed to meet minimum standards of fairness.
  • Sabo allowed the prosecutor to prevent Abu-Jamal from getting a jury of his peers via peremptory challenges to all but 2 Black jurors (out of 12) in a city that was 40% Black American. (Batson violation)
  • Newly discovered evidence in January 2019 (p.64) shows prosecutor Joe McGill tracking and identifying the race of potential jurors on a paper with a list of the potential jurors (Batsonviolation).
  • The “Mumia Exception” has prevented justice in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal
  • In 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied Abu-Jamal the Batson claim of discrimination in jury selection. The dissenting judge in the three-judge panel, Thomas Ambro, is the only judge in the long 41-year history of this case to have acknowledged a practice that legal expert and professor of journalism at Temple University, Linn Washington, has named, “the Mumia exception.” 
    • Of the failure of his colleagues in the Third Circuit Court to grant Abu-Jamal relief in the face of compelling evidence, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote, “I see no reason why we should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedents.” Judge Ambro further stated, “Why we pick this case to depart from that reasoning I do not know.” 
    • Had the hidden evidence discovered in 2019 been presented in 2008, the Third Circuit Court would have been hard pressed to deny Abu-Jamal relief in the form of release from prison or a new trial. That new evidence shows prosecutor Joe McGill in the act of identifying the race of each of the potential jurors in the Abu-Jamal case.
  • “The Mumia exception,” refers to the long-standing pattern of dismissal of compelling evidence and denial of precedent by judges when hearing the Abu-Jamal case, which in similar cases with identical claims has led either to a new trial or a defendant’s release from prison
  • However, in Abu-Jamal’s case, the record shows that judges have denied Abu-Jamal relief by employing questionable procedure; in the process they have created new legal standards, which the same judges have reversed in subsequent cases
  • The driving force of this practice is the influence of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) on the judiciary in Pennsylvania where judges run for office and are more often than not funded by the FOP.  See quote by Judge Ronald Castille on pg. 31 of Amnesty International’s A Life in the Balance.

Prepared by Dr. Johanna Fernandez (jfernandez1202@gmail.com) and Ira Arlook iarlook@gmail.com

[1] J. Patrick O’Connor, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2008): pp. 81-85, 119.

[2] O’Connor, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, pp. xii, 9-12, 67-68, 259.

[3] Cited in David Lindorff, Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu Jamal (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 2002): pp. 58, 54-55.

[4] O’Connor, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 128-129.

[5] O’Connor, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 143-144.

[6] O’Connor, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 142, 157-164.

[7] O’Connor, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 66.