(Pic of former Court Stenographer Terri Carter
Since starting this site, I have received many questions about MOVE and Mumia via email.
Some of these questions are clearly sent by people whose agenda is, shall we say, less than friendly to my situation. Others are clearly beyond my realm of knowledge and I have no problem admitting as much.
However, some questions and observations sent to me reflect a sincere interest in the issue, and those are the correspondences that I relish. Even when they disagree with me, I can appreciate someone who has taken the time to look at both sides of an issue and come to an informed conclusion, even if it may differ than mine
This was the case when I was contacted by David York who hails from Sydney Australia.
I found that he had some really interesting questions that had prompted me to cover some ground that I had not previously covered before. He also had some compelling observations concerning Mumia’s case and MOVE. As I was responding to him I thought it might be good to reprint a portion of our emailed exchange as a blog post.
Thankfully, he agreed to allow me to do so.
His comments and questions are italicized. My responses follow.Judge Sabo’s Alleged Racist Statement1. A stenographer went on the record putting the 'nigger' comment into the mouth of the judge. While the judge responded to the effect 'I never said that and I never said anything like that', Pennsylvania didn't actually put on an affidavit from him in response to hers while he was still alive and the issue had formally been brought before a federal judge. Now he's dead, of course. For your blog would you be interested in interviewing her and asking about the supposed other witnesses to this remark? Like were they male or female? Young or old? Black or white? Blond or brunette? Dressed how? His wife, maybe, or his judicial associate. And what did they say immediately before it and after it that puts the alleged remark in its context? If there's anyone who knows who was visited the judge in the period before the trial it's the associate, and that person can potentially be tracked down. The answers to these questions have never been spelled out and I think they deserve to be for the sake of thoroughness. It doesn't help from either perspective with this thing coming out 20 years after, either. You'd be aware that there was a period of 10 or 11 months between the jury verdict and the judge's confirmation of it in May '83. Wouldn't that have been the time for this stenographer to have had a word to the Chief Judge, even quietly, to say 'I heard this and I just think I should let you know before a death sentence becomes final'? For a woman who's been to all those anti-death penalty rallies over the years, just consider that for 300 days when she could have simply taken a walk down the hall to do something practical and immediate for her own conscience and for a man whose life was actually in the balance and instead she did .. well, precisely nothing.
I might try and interview Terri Carter about the statement she claims to have heard, but if MOVE has gotten to her, there is no way she will ever speak to me. Also, I don’t think she would say anything more than she said in her affidavit.
She had the ability - and the responsibility - to report the alleged blatantly racist incident to someone - anyone - from the time she claims she heard it, until jury selection, with Judge Sabo presiding, began in the second week in June of 1982.
During that period, and during the six (6) days of jury selection the stenographer never reported the alleged racist incident to the Judge she was assigned to work for, to his law clerk, or to the accused murderer's lawyer, Anthony Jackson, (whose law office was minutes away from where she worked in the courthouse, and who was present in the courthouse, her daily workplace, for the six (6) days of jury selection in Room #253).
The stenographer never reported the alleged racist comment to any member of the defendant's supportive family -his mother, his sister, or his two (2) brothers, who like Abu Jamal, were present in Room #253 for all or part of the jury selection process.
From Thursday, June 17, 1982 (when testimony was scheduled to begin) through the last day of the guilt phase of the trial, Friday, June 3, 1982, the court stenographer never reported the alleged incident to anyone, including, but not limited to journalists from two (2) mainstream daily newspapers, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Daily News, which covered the trial extensively, as did the Philadelphia Tribune, the city’s preeminent African-American newspaper. All of these papers were anti-death penalty in their editorial pages and the Inquirer in particular was known at that time for it’s courageous reportage concerning police misconduct and would have likely jumped all over the story.
She had to have known that she had moral, not to speak of professional responsibility to report the statement as it would have been a flagrant violation of the Judge's oath of office and the Code of Judicial Ethics which demands lack of bias, objectivity, impartiality, and integrity, from trial Judges. She also knew that a man’s life was potentially at stake.
The afternoon or evening of the verdict, or at the very latest on the day of the penalty trial, Saturday, July 3, 1982, the Philadelphia stenographer knew that another person was in jeopardy of being sentenced to death in the electric chair and
She knew that the Judge who would preside over the penalty trial was none other that the jurist whom she now claims was a vicious racist who was going to, in her words:
Help them (i.e., the prosecutor and the police) fry the nigger.
Yet, she never told anyone about the alleged racially biased incident during the entire month of June of 1982 or on Friday July 2nd, or on Saturday July 3rd.
The only reasonable conclusion that one can come to is that she never did hear the comment.
Given what I know about the circumstantial evidence with regards to her and my own knowledge of her long-term involvement with far-left politics in the Philadelphia area, I am of the view that she has jumped out there with a falsified statement in an effort to keep Jamal from being executed. That said, I don’t know that we will ever know the truth. And if she did hear him say that ugly comment, it wouldn’t take away from all of the other facts that demonstrates Jamal’s guilt.John Africa As Jamal Attorney2. The concept of being allowed a 'McKenzie friend' to give you quiet advice in court is uncontroversial in this country. In fact, the original McKenzie friend was an Australian barrister in London. Now Mumia Abu-Jamal was disallowed this, leading to unrelenting protests, which led to him being removed from representing himself and even from the courtroom itself on numerous occasions. In the circumstances I take the view that he should have been allowed to try John Africa as his advocate as long as there was a court-appointed attorney (which there was) as his backup for legal advice. After all, the Bill of Rights provides that a man may have 'counsel of their own choosing', not 'counsel of their own choosing among persons who have been previously licensed for that purpose by the State'. John Africa knew enough about effective advocacy to win his own trial acting for himself, and it would have been at least been very interesting to see the defendant's issues indulged in that regard. To my knowledge, John Africa was never thrown out of court for antics or disruption.Am I correct?
As a "Mckenzie friend", John Africa would have been liable for any misleading advice given to Mumia, could not be considered an expert in the law, nor was it ever argued by Jamal that he wanted John Africa in this capacity, but instead wanted Africa to represent him as his "attorney".
Moreover, John Africa made no attempt to contact the court on his own to state his willingness to fulfill this role, nor did he attend any of Jamal’s court proceedings, pre-trial, trial, or sentencing. And if you read Jamal’s testimony, it is clear that he wanted his attorney to be completely removed from the case in order that he be solely represented by John Africa.
Jamal’s behavior was so contrary to his own interests that at least one journalist wondered publicly if Jamal’s actions were part of a suicidal scheme. In fact, a psychiatrist who observed Jamal after sentencing, aired the same concerns.
Other MOVE members did however attend the trial and Jamal routinely consulted them out of earshot of the prosecutors and the judge. The PA supreme court correctly ruled against Mumia’s request, however Judge Sabo offered a compromise that the ADA did not object to that would have allowed John Africa to provide assistance to Mumia from seats directly behind the defense table. An offer Mumia refused. This refusal, left out of all of the pro-Jamal propaganda is further evidence that the issue was not so much about Jamal’s desire to have John Africa’s assistance, and was likely more about his attempt to disrupt the judicial process and follow in the footsteps of his MOVE idols.
Also, you have to understand the time-frame of Jamal’s trial in relation to MOVE. The trial of the MOVE 9 had finally concluded in 1981, some three years after their arrest. Their trial, was one of the longest and reportedly costliest in Philadelphia’s history. This, in great part due to the antics of MOVE members which amounted to violent outbursts, punctuated by long sermonizing in lieu of actual testimony, as the courts attempted to allow the defendants to exercise their right of self-representation. It was an attempt at a profane defilement of the justice system on the part of the MOVE members, and eventually, like Jamal, they were stripped of their right of representation.
Everyone in the judicial community had to have known MOVE’s tactics and it is understandable that Judge Sabo did not want a repeat in his courtroom.
John Africa, himself was tried on a host of federal weapons charges, along with another MOVE member, however instead of disrupting the trial, he slept thru portions of it, allowing his fellow defendant to due just about all of the case, save for a closing argument.
In that case, the prosecutions case collapsed and John Africa was found innocent as one of the key prosecution witnesses was found dead in a river, before the trial, a death that was ruled "suspicious", but that was ultimately determined to be a suicide. He had refused to go into the witness protection program and had continued to live and work in Philadelphia until the time of his death. As for MOVE, they blamed his death on the police.
MOVE and Mumia3. Did you ever meet anyone in MOVE who ever asked the question 'how come Mumia hasn't told us anything about the gun in all this time?'. I also think that the odds are pretty low that this brit chap who made this latest documentary about him and who spoke to him in jail came out with any thing like 'so you were found shot by the dead cop wearing an empty shoulder holster and with your gun containing only empty shell casings on the ground. What's with that??'. For me, I think that would be the second question out of my lips after 'Hello. How are you?'. And the woman who did the Guardian interview didn't get that far either. Funny, eh? Maybe they just forgot or couldn't think how it was newsworthy
During my many years with MOVE, I never heard anyone from the sect or anyone close to it, voice any concerns about Jamal’s lack of candor with regards to the case. In case you don’t know, John Africa dispatched MOVE members to the hospital the day of the shooting and almost as quickly assigned certain MOVE members to form a support network for the cult’s most beloved journalist.
The lack of intellectual curiosity with regards to Mumia’s actual story, or rather lack of one, for MOVE is rather simple to explain. MOVE is a group that does not value dissent, questioning of it’s leaders authority, or criticism of the man who has brought to the group many a supporter and many dollars.
Furthermore, in MOVE’s "theology", any MOVE member or close supporter can do no wrong and can never be guilty of anything so long as their actions are consistent with the group’s "war" against the "system". For MOVE, if they say that one of their members are innocent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe that they are of the view that the person committed no crime. What it does mean is that MOVE does not subscribe to "systematic" viewpoints, language, etc...For example, in MOVE, it is not a lie in their eyes to say that no MOVE member ever attacked anyone, even if they know otherwise. John Africa taught that "what is right is necessary and what is necessary is right". And so therefore, if a MOVE member is doing "right" in the view of the cult, no matter what they do, they are innocent.
The reason that nobody asks Jamal hard questions about the case is also simple. In order to be granted an interview you must agree not to bring up those kinds of questions. Also, I would argue that many of the people who interview Mumia don’t care what happened on December 9, 1981. For too many people, ideology is more important than truth.4. I have a couple of questions about MOVE. First, are you aware of any video or recording of John Africa that's available as an mp3 or mpeg or on the worldwide web. I'd like to be able to see/hear him to find out what all the fuss was about. How did he seem to you?
There are hardly any tapes or videos of John Africa in existence. He did not attend demonstrations or speak publicly, although he would preside over internal meetings, he was kept away from all but the most devout members of the group and would disappear for long stretches of time on "activities". Oftentimes, due to his inability to read or write well, he would dictate his teachings to a follower and did not allow video or audio recordings of his speeches in keeping with his "anti-technology" views. I have only seen one brief interview with him in which a reporter asked him about how he felt after his acquittal in which he responded "nothing I was asleep", and than got into a cab and drove off. This was on the PBS show Frontline which aired in 1987 and dealt with the 1985 confrontation.
I never met John Africa. He died in 1985 when I was 9 years old and living far from Philadelphia. I did not get involved with MOVE until 1996. What I do have from him are some of the "Guidelines" that he dictated. These "Guidelines" could be equated to a MOVE Bible, except for the fact that not available in their entirety. And even members and close supporters of the sect are allowed portions of them. The reason for this is twofold. The first of which is that the way MOVE members live today is far from the way that John Africa implored them to live. This allows for MOVE leaders to dictate their own policies and are not able to be challenged. What the younger MOVE members and supporters know of John Africa’s teachings are what they are told and not what they are allowed to see of them.
The second reason for the un-availability of the full set of "Guidelines" is that they are so far beyond being not politically correct, that they would insult just about everyone, especially the far-left which MOVE counts on for support. I discovered this while living at a "MOVE" house that I shared with Ramona Africa and another MOVE supporter. One day, while alone at the house I went digging through the filing cabinet in Ramona’s office and came across perhaps 300-500 pages of "Guidelines". Many of them were riddled with the kind of profanity that we are used to with MOVE, but others went much further.
It appears that John Africa was horribly homophobic as he repeatedly referred to gays as "faggots", and spoke of them in the worst way, went on about people with AIDS and repeatedly used the word "nigger" and other racial epithets . He railed against abortion, non-MOVE members, and even MOVE members to whom he did not see sufficient submission from, not to speak of an expressed hatred of anything that existed outside of his way of thinking. That is how I learned that John Africa sought to destroy all that he could not understand and the lack of affection he had for humanity as a whole. This is why MOVE will never release to the public, the full written record of John Africa’s teachings.
At the time, it was a very disheartening experience to say the least5. Second, how many of them (MOVE members) are there. Given that nine have been in jail since 1978 and all the remaining adults except for one were killed in the bombing in 1985, there can't be many still around on the outside can there?
If I had to guesstimate how many MOVE members and close supporters there are, I would say that there are perhaps 15-20 active in the Philadelphia area. I do not include the children in this number for the reason that I don’t believe that a child can be a "MOVE member" any more than a child can be a Republican or a Democrat. And although this number seems small, there are perhaps hundreds of people throughout the world who sympathize with the group and it’s agenda without completely subordinating themselves to the group, who send money, organize pro-MOVE events, and set up speaking engagements for MOVE members.