Legal Update - June 6, 2009
From: Robert R. Bryan, lead counsel
Subject: Mumia Abu-Jamal,
death row, Pennsylvania
Introduction In recent months there have been significant
legal developments concerning my client, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on
Pennsylvania's death row for nearly three decades. We are presently litigating
on his behalf in both the United States Supreme Court and the trial court, the
Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia.
Mumia's life on the line in this monumental struggle. He is in the
greatest danger since his arrest in 1981.
Like so many on death row, Mumia has been a victim of poverty,
racial bigotry, fraud, inadequate legal representation, and an unfair trial.
The trial judge was a racist who referred to my client as a "nigger" whom he
was going to help the prosecution "fry." Prior case lawyers failed to
investigate and present pivotal issues both at trial and in the post-conviction
process, thereby limiting what could be considered by the Supreme Court and the
U.S. Court of Appeals. Below is a brief summary of case developments.
U.S. Supreme Court, Washington There have been two
separate cases pending in the Supreme Court concerning Mumia. One involves
strictly the death penalty, while the other concerns the prosecution's use of
racism in jury selection.
Abu-Jamal v. Beard, U.S. Sup. Ct. No. 08-8483 This case
related to the Philadelphia District Attorney's use of racism in selecting the
jury that decided both the question of guilt and whether my client should die.
The prosecutor used 66.67% of his available strikes to exclude African
Americans from sitting on the jury. A judge in the lower federal court
determined there was clear evidence that the prosecutor's strikes of black
people was race-based and thus unconstitutional. The dissenting justice in a
2-1 decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, found
overwhelming evidence of racism by the prosecutor. (Abu-Jamal v. Horn, 520 F.3d
272 (3rd Cir. 2008).) He explained that the "core guarantee of equal
protection, ensuring citizens that their State will not discriminate on account
of race, would be meaningless were we to approve the exclusion of jurors on the
basis of . . . race. . . . I respectfully dissent."
On April 6, 2009, the Supreme Court declined to hear our case.
This came as a profound disappointment and shock, even though the court rejects
98-99% of cases presented for review. Mumia's case was exceptional, especially
in view of the powerful dissenting decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals. Our
strong constitutional position was bolstered by briefing from the NAACP's Legal
Defense Fund, which I had invited into the case to address the racism issue.
Tragically the court turned its back on it own case law which held that racism
in jury selection offends the U.S. Constitution and mandates a new trial. Our
extensive briefing had laid out the overwhelming evidence establishing the
prosecutor's race-based behavior and the racially-charged atmosphere of the
trial. On May 1, I submitted a Petition for Rehearing which has been
Beard v. Abu-Jamal, Sup. Ct. No. 08-652 We are still
litigating in the Supreme Court inm an entirely separate case in which the
prosecution is seeking to overturn the victory achieved last year in the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In that ruling the court ordered a new
jury trial on the question of the death penalty. Both sides have gone back and
forth in briefing in the Supreme Court. Due to developments in another case
with a similar issue, it may be several months before Mumia's case is decided.
If we win, then there will be a new jury trial. In the event of an adverse
decision, the prosecution would push for a quick execution.
Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia, Commonwealth v. Abu-Jamal,
Nos. 1357-1359 On April 20, 2009, we filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus
Relief in the trial court, the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. At issue is
the fact that Mumia was convicted on the basis of unreliable and incomplete
expert ballistics testimony presented by the prosecution during the 1982 trial.
We have also moved for discovery of all related evidence possessed by the
Other Developments in Europe and the United States In this
country t he support and activism of the National Lawyers Guildhas been crucial
on our work on behalf of Mumia. The cry for justice in the case of Mumia
continues to be particularly strong in Europe. As an example, on May 17, 2009 a
feature article datelined Paris appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. The
piece is reprinted at the the end of this Legal Update and available online
with photographs at:
It describes the activism of committed French human-rights activists on
behalf of Mumia which has drawn considerable attention in the U.S.
United States Many people have heard about the support
for Mumia by the National Lawyers Guild, headquartered in New York with
chapters across the country, but know little of the details. Since its founding
in 1937 the NLG has provided legal support to a wide range of legal and social
movements, starting with drafting New Deal legislation and aiding in the
formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the United Auto
Workers (UAW). It has actively supported labor rights and played a central role
in defending individuals targeted by the House Un-American Activities
Committee. NLG lawyers, legal workers and law students participated in the
Civil Rights movement and opened "people's law offices" in the South. In the
1990s and into the new millennium the organization's scope widened to include
protecting individual rights against the increasing dominance of corporations,
legal defense at mass demonstrations, and training lawyers about developments
in the law such as newly developing anti-terrorism legislation. The NLG
aggressively opposes the death penalty, and many of its attorneys specialize in
capital defense work. That included the legal effort to save Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg who were executed June 19,1953 in New York. Each year the NLG
features a "Student Day Against the Death Penalty," and actively assists 100
student chapters in hosting public education events to raise awareness of the
multitude of problems with the death penalty and to work toward its abolition.
Law professor members and students have hosted hundreds of events featuring
leading capital defense attorneys and former death-row inmates, and the NLG
provides an organizing kit to students to help facilitate events against
Mumia's case has been a national priority of the NLG for over
two decades. For many years he has served on the Board of Directors as
Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President. At the annual conventions numerous resolutions
have been passed seeking a new and fair trial and over the years the NLG has
co-sponsored events around the country related to his case. Three years ago I
invited the Guild to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on his
behalf. Thereafter a brief was submitted on the issue of the death penalty and
other issues by Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director, a member professor
from George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and others in the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Further, Ms Boghosian, an outstanding
lawyer, has been active is assisting me in the representation of Mumia for many
years, and has joined me in a number of client meetings. Mumia has enormous
respect and trust for her and the NLG.
Germany In Berlin on March 27, the prestigious Akademie
der Künst (Academy of Arts), located two doors from the U.S. Embassy at
the Brandenburg Gate, hosted an outstanding panel discussion on Mumia as a
journalist, author, and political prisoner. It originated from the efforts of
the writer Sabine Kebir, PEN, and Nicole Bryan. The audience filled the
auditorium. Participating in the human-rights event, was: Madame Danielle
Mitterrand, former First Lady of France; Klaus Staeck, President of the
Akademie; Johano Strasser, President of PEN Germany; Günter Wallraff, a
well known author; Gerhart Rudolf Baum, former Minister of the Interior, the
Bundestag (parliament), and United Nations representative; and me. A video of
the entire event is available on the Internet, at:
commitment of supporters in Germany is a model of activism, especially those in
Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen.
France The movement for Mumia in France is excellent. It
is led by the Collectif "Ensemble Sauvons Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Together We Will
Save Mumia Abu-Jamal), composed of approximately 80 organizations. In Prison My
Whole Life, the outstanding film on Mumia, is being shown in theaters
throughout the country and continues to draw acclaim at film festivals. In
Paris on March 15, it was awarded the Grand Prix and the Planete Prix at the
Film Festival of Human Rights (Le Festival International du Film des Droits de
l'Homme). In my two speeches at the awards ceremony, I accepted the prizes not
only on behalf of Mumia, but also "for all the men, women and children who are
on death rows around the world." The movie was also featured at the Amnesty
International, a past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a sponsor of the
film. Claude Guillaumaud-Pujol, author of Mumia Abu-Jamal: The Voice of the
Voiceless, and I spoke after each presentation. The movie was also featured in
the Lyon International Film Festival last October. Mumia is grateful to Jacky
Hortaut and the many supporters in France who do so much in the cause of
Netherlands On April 3 and and 4, In Prison My Whole Life
was shown at Amnesty International's Movies That Matter film festival in The
Hague and Amsterdam. Nicole and I participated in both events. There was a
panel discussion following each showing in which Arlette Stuip, who attended
Goddard College with Mumia, Ms. Guillaumaud-Pujol, and I discussed the case and
Donations for Mumia's Legal Defense in the U.S. Our legal
effort is the front line of the battle for Mumia's freedom and life. His legal
defense needs help. The costs are substantial for our litigation in the U.S.
Supreme Court and at the state level. To help, please make your checks payable
to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation (indicate "Mumia" on the bottom left).
All donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Code Code, section
501(c)(3), and should be mailed to:
Committee To Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
P.O. Box 2012
Conclusion It is outrageous and a violation of human rights
that Mumia remains in prison and on death row. His life hangs in the balance.
My career has been marked by successfully representing people facing death in
murder cases. I will not rest until we win Mumia's case. Justice requires no
With best wishes,
Robert R. Bryan
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal
San Francisco Chronicle
French Still Rally to Abu-Jamal's
Chronicle Foreign Service
Sunday, May 17,
(05-17) 04:00 PDT Paris - -- An ardent group of activists who meet
weekly to protest the imprisonment of a death-row inmate, chanted slogans,
shouted into microphones and held up printed banners. They could have been Bay
Area residents in front of San Quentin before an execution, but they wore
Chloé flats, spoke French, gathered near the Seine River and
yelledliberté for a man languishing 3,700 miles away in a Pennsylvania
While Mumia Abu-Jamal, 55, has been excoriated as a vicious cop
killer in Philadelphia, he has been a cause-celebre in France for years.
In 2001, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe declared him an honorary
citizen, adding Abu-Jamal to a list of notables such as Pablo Picasso and the
Dalai Lama. In 2006, the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis named a street after
him, prompting the city of Philadelphia to file a "crime of denial" grievance
under an 1881 French law.
Late last year, Abu-Jamal's San Francisco attorney, Robert R.
Bryan, received a medal from the city of Lyon for his work against the death
penalty. At a news conference, Bryan joined Danielle Mitterrand, the widow of
former President Francois Mitterrand, to speak to Abu-Jamal by cell phone at a
palatial 17th century city hall.
Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to order a new
trial 27 years after Abu-Jamal's 1982 conviction for killing 25-year-old
Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Faulkner's widow, Maureen, who now
lives in Southern California, said she wept after the decision. "I've been
haunted by the Free Mumia movement," she has told reporters. "He murdered my
husband in cold blood." Her sentiment and the court's decision, however,
haven't discouraged Abu-Jamal's European supporters, whose rallies often
eclipse those held in New York and San Francisco. Along with Paris, he has been
given the status of honorary citizen in some 20 other cities, including
Palermo, Sicily, and is an honorary member of Berlin's Association of Those
Persecuted by the Nazi Regime. Most of his ardent European backers believe he
didn't receive a fair trial and is innocent. Others are simply against the
death penalty. Currently, Belarus is the only European country that still uses
"He's innocent," said Abdel Chaoui, a 56-year-old resident of
Saint-Denis. "If he's not, he shouldn't be put to death ... he has served
Although French activists have lobbied for the release of other
U.S. prisoners - at last month's rally, protesters also collected signatures
demanding a new trial for American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who is
serving a life sentence for the murder of two FBI agents - no other inmate
galvanizes the French public like Abu-Jamal.
Some observers attribute such support to France's love affair with
African Americans who sought refuge from U.S. racism, such as dancer Josephine
Baker, writer Richard Wright, singer Paul Robeson and poet Langston Hughes.
Many French supporters are convinced American institutions are inherently
In addition, Abu-Jamal "is uniquely articulate for a death-row
inmate," said UCLA political science Professor Mark Sawyer. "The idea of
someone of his intellectual heft on death row makes some think of him as a
Before his arrest, Abu-Jamal had no previous criminal record. He
had been a member of the Black Panther Party and had worked as a cab driver and
radio journalist. He has continued writing behind bars and recently published
his sixth book -"Jailhouse Lawyers" published by San Francisco's City Lights
Publishers, making him a compelling poster child for death-penalty
Meanwhile, San Francisco attorney Bryan is convinced that European
support will help his client avoid the death penalty and win a new trial.
"International support is crucial. If protests on Mumia's behalf
are heard on the other side of the Atlantic, it has a major effect," he said.
"Judges try to be impervious to public sentiment. But they're not machines;
fortunately, they're human."
The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal
On death row since a 1982 conviction for the murder of a
Philadelphia police officer, Mumia Abu-Jamal has received much attention both
at home and abroad.
Hollywood celebrities such as Martin Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg,
Michael Moore, Ed Asner and Edward James Olmos have called for a new trial. The
American rock band Rage Against The Machine have sung his praises in "Voice of
the Voiceless." British actor Colin Firth produced a 2007 documentary about his
case called "In Prison My Whole Life."
Abu-Jamal supporters say somebody else shot the police officer,
his court-appointed lawyer was incompetent and several witnesses have
contradicted themselves over the years. In a 2000 report, Amnesty International
said trial evidence was "contradictory and incomplete,"
But critics say Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, shot the police
officer, four witnesses testified that he was the gunman, and shell casings
from his .38-caliber gun were found at the crime scene. Moreover, police say he
confessed to the crime while recuperating from his wounds in a hospital bed.
Few, however, argue that a police officer named Daniel Faulkner
pulled over a Volkswagen driven by William Cook, Abu-Jamal's brother on Dec, 9,
1981, for a traffic violation. Faulkner soon called for backup, but was dead
from gunshot wounds to the back and face by the time other officers arrived.
Police found Abu-Jamal nearby in the cab he drove lying in a pool of his own
blood from a gunshot wound to the chest. Abu-Jamal has long said he saw
Faulkner beating his brother, and when he went to his aid the officer shot
Over the years, state and federal courts have denied various
appeals for a retrial and a habeas corpus review. The courts have also denied
claims that witnesses perjured themselves and that Abu-Jamal had ineffectual
counsel. In the latest decision last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a
federal appeals court ruling that upheld his conviction, rejecting the argument
that prosecutors sought to exclude black people from the jury. Abu Jamal was
convicted by a jury of 10 whites and two blacks. Abu-Jamal's San Francisco
lawyer, Robert R. Bryan has filed a petition for a Supreme Court rehearing in
the case, and is considering challenging ballistics findings in a separate
action. The court has yet to consider a lower court ruling that set aside the
death penalty. That ruling has been appealed by Philadelphia authorities,
leaving Abu-Jamal on death row.
"We're closer to meeting the executioner," said Bryan.