No "Racism" At Jamal Jury Selection
(The misguided march)
by John Hayden
27 years and 10 days after he'd murdered a Philadelphia cop in front of two Black and three non- Black eyewitnesses, Mumia Abu Jamal filed his 5th petition to the U S Supreme Court to review the alleged constitutional errors of the various federal and state courts that have refused to give him a new trial. The remorseless cop killer's San Francisco lawyer, a death penalty specialist, Robert Bryan, claims that: Racism and politics are threads that have run through this case since his 1981 arrest.
In March of 2008, shortly after the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals (in a 2 to 1 decision)dismissed Abu Jamal's "racism" in jury selection claim, attorney Bryan appeared on a left coast radio program and declared: We (he Abu Jamal) were rather astounded that the court made that ruling...the big gorilla in the room, the elephant in the room, is racism in jury selection...removing people from sitting on juries because of the color of their skin.
In the U S Supreme Court petition the principal claim of the gun owning radio journalist is that the 1982 prosecutor's use of 10 out his available 20 peremptory challenges to eliminate 10 potential Black jurors was racially motivated, unconstitutionally discriminatory, and deprived the Death-Row prisoner of his rights to equal protection of the law and a fair trial by a jury of his peers.
There was no "racism" displayed by the prosecutor (former ADA Joseph McGill) during the June 1982 jury selection process. Indeed, all of the members of the state's highest court, the Pa. Supreme Court, examined the transcript of the prosecutor's questions and comments directed to the 10 challenged Blacks, and found "not a trace of support for an inference that the use of peremptories was racially motivated." (Commonwealth v. Mumia Abu Jamal, a/k/a Wesley Cook (1998) 720 A.2d 79, at 114)
On December 18, 2001, the federal habeas corpus Judge who decided to nullify the 1982racially mixed jury's unanimous sentence of "death" carefully examined the same jury selection transcript. He ruled that the convicted murderer "points to no improper statement or question by the prosecutor during jury selection." (Judge William Yohn in Mumia Abu Jamal v. Martin Horn, Corrections Commissioner) In March of 2008 two Judges of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Black gun owner had failed to demonstrate a "prima facie case" of racial discrimination in the jury selection process.
Unfortunately for Abu Jamal's shooting victim, Officer Danny Faulkner, his widow, his surviving sibling, and the cause of justice in America, the remorseless murderer now has a reasonable chance of having the High Court accept his case for review despite five previous denials. Why? Because one clueless Judge on the 3rd Circuit declared that Mumia Abu Jamal, the subject of a new book by crime author, J. Patrick O'Connor (The Frame-Up of Mumia Abu Jamal), and the mythological hero of a recent sympathetic Sundance Channel infomercial (My Life In Prison), had demonstrated a "prima facie case" of racial discrimination. Thus, according to Judge Ambro, Abu Jamal is entitled to an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the basis of even one of the 10 perempts was racially motivated (as opposed to being race-neutral).
That Judge's decision, and Mumia Abu Jamal's "racism" claim, both ignore seven uncontested facts. #1. The very 1st juror selected by the ADA was Black, like the accused murderer, his defense lawyer, two eyewitnesses to the slaying (i.e., his brother, William Cook, and a street hooker), and the principal ear-witness to Abu Jamal's boasful in-hospital confession: "I shot the mother fucker, and I hope the mother fucker dies!"); 2. The 2nd person intentionally selected by the prosecutor was also Black. 3. The gun owner on trial for his life intentionally eliminated that fair and impartial Black by using one of his own 20 peremptory challenges. 4. By the end of the jury selection process the prosecutor had intentionally selected a total of four (4) fair and impartial Blacks. 5. Five out of the 10 peremptorily eliminated potential Black jurors could easily have been eliminated for cause: "bias against police" (#1 Janet Coates); "strong feelings against death penalty" (#2 Alma Austin); "strong reservations about the death penalty" (#7 Webster Reddick); "hearing problem" (# 9 Carl Lash); and "opposed to death penalty, indicated she could not be fair if the trial were lengthy" (#15 Darlene Sampson). 6. The other five were peremptorily eliminated for obviously race-neutral reasons in a capital case where the accused murderer was a local radio journalist: "listened to Petitioner (Abu Jamal) on the radio" (#3 Verna Brown); "listened to Abu Jamal on radio" (# 5 Genevieve Gibson); "listened to Abu Jamal on the radio" (#11 Gwendolyn Spady); "listened to Abu Jamal on the radio" (#13 Wayne Williams); "daughter worked at same radio station as Abu Jamal" (#14- Henry McCoy). * 7. At the end of the jury selection process the prosecutor had five peremptory challenges left. If he were the "racist" the convicted murderer claims he was, he could easily have eliminated all four of the Blacks he'd intentionally selected as fact finders. It's immensely significant that the 1st two jurors selected by ADA McGill were Black because pre-trial publicity in the Philadelphia Inquirer created the reasonable probability of pro defendant sympathy or prejudice, and anti police bias by potential Black jurors in a case where seven of the state's witnesses were cops. The January 5, 1982 Inquirer's headline and article informed potential Black jurors that:
WOMAN, SAYING SHE'S JAMAL'S WIFE, CONTENDS HE WAS BEATEN BY POLICE
Ms. Wadla Jamal told reporters that police had beaten her husband in a police van outside Jefferson Hospital. It caused a punctured kidney, bruised ribs, and serious head injuries. The same Inquirer article reported that the Black hospital patient's lawyer, Anthony Jackson, had filed a "police brutality complaint" on behalf of his client. The same Inquirer article mentioned that the radio journalist's mother, Mrs. Edith Cook, complained about "threats that had been made against the family by police officers. She read a letter from her son that stated: The ruthless police..beat me...and split my skull.
This pre-trial publicity could not have failed to produce either empathy, sympathy, or anti police bias in the minds of potential Black jurors who were either personally, or indirectly familiar with police brutality against themselves, their loved ones, friends, neighbors, or strangers. Under these circumstances the prosecutor should be applauded for having selected a total of four fact finders from the same racial or ethnic group as the man he was trying to convict of 1st degree murder of a white cop. In early June of 1982 there may very well have been other prosecutors in America - north and south of the Mason Dixon line - who'd engaged in the insidious practice of discriminating against a Black on trial for the capital murder of a white victim. But not in courtroom # 253 in Philadelphia, Pa.. To pretend in 2008 that "racism" was involved in the jury selection process of Mumia Abu Jamal's capital murder trial is an insult to the racially mixed jury which unanimously decided that the gun owning radio journalist was the person who'd shot the cop in the back 27 years ago.
Author: Mumia Abu Jamal - The "Political Prisoner" (To be published in 2009 after the U S Supreme Court decides Mumia Abu Jamal's Petition for a Writ of Certiorari.)
Brief Biography: Former prosecutor, defense attorney and criminal appeals specialist (murder, manslaughter, arson, drug dealing, assault, rape, robbery, etc.), writer for the East Hampton Independent and the Southampton Independent (now The Independent), The Long Island Jewish World (article on Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ), former co-editor Gilbert's Criminal Law & Procedure (a desk reference book for N.Y. trial Judges)
* Author's note - The material in quotes is taken verbatim from federal Judge Wm Yohn's 12/18/01 decision. It's re-printed verbatim at p. 611 of my 1st book on the remorseless convicted murderer, Mumia Abu Jamal-The Patron Saint of American Cop Killers (2006) - available on "amazon.com."