Friday, December 08, 2006

Dave Lindorff's Pro-Jamal Spin

(Picture of Dave Lindorff)

As far as pro-Jamal writers go, I must confess that Dave Lindorff is one of the most rational and reasonable of the bunch.

Unlike many of those in the "free Mumia" camp he is not completely immune to reality and is occasionally willing to buck the prevailing orthodoxy within the Mumia "movement". From my exchanges with him I have found him to be thoughtful and someone who I would not mind sitting down for a drink and engaging in a heated yet friendly debate.

That said, I think his political proclivities have clouded his judgement and unhinged his moral gauge when it comes to Mumia.

In a recent article, Lindorff makes the claim that Jamal’s original prosecutor, Joe McGill "concedes that he (Jamal) never had a true defense". The inference being of course being that Jamal was somehow denied this right by judicial and prosecutorial malfeasance or through the ineptitude of Jamal’s hand picked attorney. This, however is not the case, and I think it fair to say that McGill’s alleged comment was taken out of context.

What McGill did say was that he believes that most of those who still support Mumia are the remnants of a "uninformed movement". He also said that "the further you get away from Philadelphia the less light that’s shown on it...The way they talk themselves out of considering the facts is to say the facts are not true." McGill quite accurately makes the point that Mumia "got caught up in the role he was playing" of a black revolutionary. He was much more involved in creating a role and creating an audience for the trial at times then focusing on what would be best for him... "His whole focus was anti - anti-system, anti-government, anti-judicial system."

It was reported in the Inquirer that McGill said that he thinks Abu-Jamal could have been convicted of a lesser homicide charge if he had waged a true defense, but this was not a direct quote from McGill and it is not clear whether those were his words or those of a reporter attempting to summarize McGill’s commentary.

Either way it really doesn’t matter because McGill has made it clear that he believes Jamal guilty and the sentence just.

Lindorff goes onto build upon his tyranny of assumptions by asserting that:

" there were reports back in 1995 that one of the prosecution's key eye-witnesses to the Faulkner shooting, the cab driver Robert Chobert, had recanted his trial testimony, in which he had testified that his cab directly behind Faulkner's parked squad car, making him a direct witness to the shooting, and was instead saying that he had been parked on another street, facing away from the incident."

But at the PCRA trial in 1995 it was Jamal’s attorney Weinglass who was working overtime to show that their was some kind of quid-pro-quo with regards to Chobert’s testimony, to the point that Weinglass sought to exclude as evidence Chobert’s damning testimony about how he saw Jamal shoot Officer Faulkner.

Throughout the years, Chobert has been adamant about the murder of Officer Faulkner and who he saw do it and no amount of wishful thinking on the part of Lindorff can alter that undeniable fact. In another less than solid argument, Lindorff offers a red herring when he claims (without a shred of proof) that:

"It is well known that the Philadelphia District Attorney's office has had a long history, stretching back at least to Rendell's two terms as DA, of deliberately overcharging defendants in hopes of winning plea bargains, and of deliberately seeking the death penalty even when it is inappropriate.."

Now, whether one agrees with the death penalty or not, the issue of whether the cold-blooded killing of a Police Officer while he was in the administration of his duty as an officer of the law qualifies as a capital offense is not really one that has been up for debate. Moreover, the fact that Jamal not only shot the Officer once, but according to eyewitnesses put a great deal of effort into ensuring that Officer Faulkner died, made Jamal a prime candidate for the death penalty.

Here is the point where Lindorff completely goes off the deep end:

"I know McGill claims that this is because Abu-Jamal himself screwed up by insisting on being able to defend himself, but the truth is more complicated. In fact, Abu-Jamal had hired an attorney, Anthony Jackson, whom he thought was up to the task, but who in fact had never handled a death penalty case, and who moreover had a drug habit (he was subsequently disbarred for financial improprieties, allegedly related to drugs). When Jackson began messing up, Abu-Jamal tried to get rid of him, but was not allowed to do so by Judge Sabo, who seemed to relish the discord that he was encouraging between the defendant and his counsel. What Abu-Jamal ended up with was the worse of all possible worlds: an incompetent defense counsel, but no right to represent himself either."

The above paragraph is worth reading more than once as it is emblamatic of the fallacious nature and high level of manipulation that Jamal supporters must aspire to in order to re-arrange the facts in order to make it seem like Jamal was again the victim. With regard to Anthony Jackson’s record one can see clearly in the PCRA transcripts that Jackson was up to the task at hand, but that it was Jamal who was his own worst enemy in the proceedings. The following testimony by Jackson in 1995 dispatches Lindorff’s crudely constructed propaganda.

Q. How many murder cases had you tried, sir, prior to December, or I should say June the 2nd of 1982?

A. My best recollection is a minimum of 16, perhaps 20 cases, 20 murder cases before Mr. Jamal's case.

Q. And how many of those defendants were convicted of first degree murder? Just round numbers if you can. Percentages if you can.

A. A half dozen.

Q. So out of 20 murder cases, six people convicted of first degree murder. And ostensibly, those six people faced the judgment of life or death by a jury, I presume?

A. That is correct, sir. Let me correct it. This is tough. I think there may have been two, possibly three that were convicted of first degree on waivers, with the judge.

Q. Nevertheless, the two possible penalties for first degree conviction are only a life or a death

sentence; is that correct?

A. That is correct, sir. Of those six people -- that was prior to Mr. Jamal's –sentence:

A. That is correct.

Q. -- none of those people received the death penalty, did they?

A. No, sir.

Q. Okay. And since you had 20 murder trials, more or less, before Mr. Jamal was tried, where did you have time to squeeze all those in between the D.A.'s Office and the Police Department and the prison system and Pilcop?A. I worked real hard. I did, I could try to tell you. 1975 was the year because I think I left the D.A.'s Office in January, maybe February of 1975. During that time again I was staff counsel for the Prison Master, it was not full-time. During that first year of being in private practice, I think I was appointed to three, maybe four criminal cases, criminal homicide cases. I was privately retained for one.

Q. Major cases, sir? And by that I mean every case is major if there's a murder involved?

A. Right.

Q. So out of 20 murder cases, six people convicted of first degree murder. And ostensibly, those six people faced the judgment of life or death by a jury, I presume?

A. That is correct, sir. Let me correct it. This is tough. I think there may have been two, possibly three that were convicted of first degree on waivers, with the judge.

Q. Nevertheless, the two possible penalties for first degree conviction are only a life or a death sentence; is that correct?

A. That is correct, sir.

Q. Of those six people -- that was prior to Mr. Jamal's –

A. That is correct.

Q. -- none of those people received the death penalty, did they?

A. No, sir.

So the trial transcripts seem to dismiss Lindorff’s claim of Anthony Jackson’s lack of experience with death penalty cases. Another issue raised by Lindorff is the oft repeated allegation that Attorney Jackson was somehow under the influence of drugs while he was representing Jamal and that this involvement with drugs led to him being disbarred. Yet during the two days of testimony at the 1995 PCRA hearings the issue of Attorney Jackson and drugs did not come up once. One would think that if there were some credulity to the charge that Weinglass and company would have at least obliquely addressed the issue. But they did not. It is yet another part of the Jamal "urban legend" that has become fodder for Jamal acolytes such as Lindorff.

Proof be damned.

Lindorff also wants to make the case that Jamal wanted to remove Jackson as counsel because of the fact that Jamal observed Jackson was "messing up". Assuming for a moment that this is correct, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that Jamal would prefer that Jackson be replaced by another attorney? He did not. He wanted sub-literate, cult leader. John Africa to represent him and he would repeat this request over and over during his trial despite the Judge’s continued repudiation.

Moreover, Jamal didn’t give Jackson time to "mess up".

Before the trial even started Jamal had Jackson relegated to the position of "back-up counsel" and on the first day of the trial Jamal was making it clear that he was going to make a mockery of justice and do his best to sabotage the judicial proceedings at the behest of his ever present MOVE advisors.

Even before the trial started, Jamal had placed Jackson in a precarious position when Jamal himself decided to conduct jury selection. A rather unprecedented move, but one that the judge allowed until it became clear that Jamal’s goal was to obstruct the case as opposed to moving it forward. At that point an already beleaguered Jackson was thrust into the position of continuing jury selection at the mid-way point.

Jamal’s behavior was consistent with that of his MOVE heroes whose courtroom antics he had personally observed and apparently admired to the point that he sought to emulate them.
Aside from Jamal’s insistence that the sub-literate John Africa be his attorney he also wanted Attorney Jackson not to make any objections to materiality, relevance, or even cross examine witnesses. Rather, Jamal wanted to reserve the right to cross examine the witnesses at a "later date". This, again, was something out of the MOVE courtroom play-book. However, the Judge wasn’t having it, and refused Jamal’s proposition

Lindorff’s attempts to paint Jamal as a sober and rational person reacting to an overtly racist frame-up is completely contradicted by the trial transcripts. Jamal was out of control to the point that one journalist wondered if Jamal was "suicidal". Journalist Marc Kaufman who, unlike Lindorff was actually at the trial had this to say about Jamal’s behavior:

"Because of his courtroom actions some friends and observers believe that Abu-Jamal may be committing an indirect suicide or that the pressures and disappointments of his life (e.g. fired from two radio jobs) had grown so great that he literally lost touch with reality"

And even after Jamal’s conviction and sentencing Judge Sabo ordered a routine psychiatric examination of Jamal. The Psychiatrist reported back to the judge that Jamal was in fact "suicidal".

And what pro-Mumia article would be complete without an assertion that the police, prosecutors, judge, etc...were willful instruments of racist oppression? Lindorff does not disappoint. But instead of offering actual proof he relies almost exclusively on statistics and a couple of rather vague anecdotes

The statistics are meaningless when divorced from their context and only make more clear that Lindorff and his band of "Free Mumia" devotees are running out of arguments. I have wrote extensively on the issue of racism in the selection of Jamal’s jury and feel no need to revisit the arguments here. Moreover, although subpoenaed by Jamal’s defense team in 1995,they never put former DA McGill on the stand.

In his pursuance of fantasy Lindorff briefly mentions that the Jamal jury was

"ultimately reduced to two blacks when one black juror was removed by the judge under questionable circumstances"

Lindorff makes the comment and than retreats from it without further elaboration. But the removal of the juror in question did not occur under "questionable circumstances". The juror was removed because she blatantly violated the rules of sequestering and the order of the judge. She went home to tend to her sick cat. But she did not get permission to do so and when confronted she had this to say to the court "I don’t care what Judge Sabo or anybody says. I do what I have to do. Nobody is going to stop me". She broke the strict sequestering rules and was removed from the jury for it. There were no "questionable circumstances" except in the overactive imaginations of Jamal apologists.

Again, Lindorff goes down the rabbit hole when he contorts facts in order to further his agenda by claiming that:

"At one point, McGill also interrupted Judge Sabo to observe that a black judge had entered the courtroom and seated himself on the side of the visitor's seating area where Abu-Jamal’s supporters were. McGill said to the judge, "If the court pleases, the two black jurors may know him." Since it was just as likely that the ten white jurors might have known Judge Calvin Wilson, this was clear evidence that McGill saw black jurors as being fundamentally different from white jurors"

What Lindorff does not tell you is that McGill also quickly added that "anybody" may know the Judge. It should also be noted that in the above paragraph, Lindorff is writing about the alleged racist jury selection, and the inference is that the comment by McGill is just part and parcel of a racist agenda to remove African-American jurors. But this is not the case. The commentary happened during the questioning of a witness and not during jury selection.

Lindorff is clearly passionate about Jamal and his case and he seems to sincerely believe that there has been a miscarriage of justice.

So why the obfuscation and clear attempts to muddle the facts on the part of Lindorff?

To tell only part of the story is to not tell the story at all.

I would encourage people to not take my word or Lindorff’s word, but instead to read the transcripts for yourself and explore both sides of the debate and come to your own conclusions.


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