The controversial ruling that put Mumia Abu-Jamal on death row in 1982 was a topic of discussion for a diverse group of Temple community members, who gathered on Monday, April 1 to hear some alternative perspectives on the ruling.
Temple journalism professor and Philadelphia Tribune reporter Linn Washington, and Terri Maurer-Carter, a former court stenographer who worked as a court-reporter during Abu-Jamal’s trial, spoke at the informal gathering in Tuttleman.
Abu-Jamal was convicted of shooting 25-year-old Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, on December 9, 1981, after Faulkner had pulled over Abu-Jamal’s brother at a traffic stop.
Washington said the established case against Abu-Jamal is founded on three tiers: a confession, ballistic evidence, and eyewitness testimony, and he had counter-points to offer for all of them.
The event was organized by a Temple student group, called “SYSTEM” (students and youth to stop the execution of Mumia). Several members became interested in the case in high school, while others became involved because they were unfamiliar with the issue. The group uses programs such as teach-ins and hip-hop shows to bring together many issues they feel are associated with the Abu-Jamal controversy.
“[This case] brings together so much that we need to know, living in this country, from the guy on the street [who is framed] to the revolutionary journalist like Mumia who is targeted,” said organizational vice president April Rosenblum, a junior History and Spanish major.
Washington said there were inconsistencies in the original findings concerning the bullet removed from Faulkner’s body.
The medical examiner on the scene originally wrote in his notes that the bullet was “. 44 cal.” Abu-Jamal’s gun was a .38 caliber weapon, and thus could not have fired such a bullet. This discrepancy was later explained by the medical examiner as “part of the paper work but not an official finding.”
Maurer-Carter, who kept quiet for years after Abu-Jamal’s trial, had decided to come forward with information she felt was important to his case.
She signed an affidavit stating she heard the judge in the case make a racist and threatening remark in his chambers.
Carter said Judge Albert F. Sabo called Abu-Jamal a racial slur and said “yeah, and I’m gonna help them fry [him]”.
Sabo, who became a judge in 1974, has been criticized by groups such as Amnesty International who accuse him of conducting the trial with a bias against Abu-Jamal.
The “Justice for Daniel Faulkner” Web site, which was founded in 1997, states, “It is our feeling that the offensive label of “racist,” — which Jamal’s supporters so freely attached to Judge Sabo — should not be used lightly as to any individual. When challenged, Jamal’s pitiful, hate-filled lawyers and supporters cannot point to a single scrap of evidence for their horrendous accusations against this well-respected and hard-working jurist.”
In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled, “Upon review of the entire record, we cannot conclude that any of Judge Sabo’s intemperate remarks were unjustified or indiscriminate, nor did they evidence a settled bias against Appellant.”
“I’m not from the area, so it was nice to hear a little about the intricacies [of the case],” said Jemmell-Z Washington, a journalism student in the Masters program.
Washington said America, on paper, has the best justice system in the world, representing fairness and impartiality. He feels that America does, however, have a structural imbalance: a typical defendant has one attorney, working against the efforts of a prosecutors office and police department.
Citing a former Supreme Court case as a precedent, Washington said, “The court maintains that even if the defendant is guilty as hell, they deserve a fair trial.”
Amy Jennifer Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org