By Monica Moorehead

On July 19, Federal District Judge William Yohn issued a 13- page ruling in which he turned down a petition filed by the  new legal counsel representing African American political  prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. In essence, Yohn  refused to accept the confession of Arnold Beverly as an  addition to a writ of habeas corpus filed originally in this  particular court on Oct. 15, 1999.

The federal district court is the only high court that could  automatically grant Abu-Jamal the right to an evidentiary  hearing. He has requested such a hearing, at which he could  present new evidence in his case, based on 29 violations of  the U.S. Constitution carried out during his original sham  trial. These 29 violations were outlined in the original  writ of habeas corpus.

An evidentiary hearing would allow all suppressed evidence  to finally be heard. But this negative ruling by Yohn makes  it less likely that the evidentiary hearing will ever  happen.

Arnold Beverly signed an affidavit stating that he was a hit  man who had been hired and paid by the mob to kill a white  policeman, Daniel Faulkner, on Dec. 9, 1981, in  Philadelphia. Abu-Jamal was accused and subsequently  convicted of that killing. He has been languishing on death  row since July 3, 1982, and could face execution once his  federal appeals have been exhausted. Two death warrants have  been signed by the Pennsylvania governor and then withdrawn  under mass pressure during Abu-Jamal's state appeals.

The worldwide political movement to "Free Mumia" has stated  since its very existence that the real reason Abu-Jamal  faces a legal lynching stems from his revolutionary  opposition to all forms of racist and class oppression. Many  within the growing anti-globalization movement have embraced  Abu-Jamal as the most recognizable symbol of resistance to  the racist use of the death penalty inside the U.S.

This most recent petition filed by Abu-Jamal's new legal  counsel--Marlene Kamish, Eliot Grossman and Nick Brown-- explained that Beverly's confession about killing Faulkner  was first made in a deposition on June 8, 1999. The main  motivation Beverly gave for the murder was that "Faulkner  was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he  interfered with the graft and payoffs made to all illegal  activity including prostitution, gambling and drugs with  prosecution in the center city area."


Yohn cited the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty  Act of 1996 as the main reason for not accepting the Beverly  confession. The AEDPA was signed into law during the Clinton  administration after the Oklahoma City bombing of a federal  building by racist right-wingers that claimed the lives of  over 160 people. April 24, the day the act was passed by  Congress, is ironically the same date as Abu-Jamal's  birthday.

The AEDPA makes it virtually impossible for death row  inmates to get federal courts to overturn state convictions  in capital punishment cases, even when new evidence is  presented to prove their innocence. The law states that  unless death- row inmates submitted a writ of habeas corpus  to the federal courts on or before April 23, 1997--the date  the law actually went into effect--federal judges are not  obligated to review the state rulings based on suppression  of vital evidence or even constitutional rights violations.

The impact of this law is not only to gut the writ of habeas  corpus but to speed up the rate of state-sanctioned  executions that target the poor and people of color,  including activists like Abu-Jamal who challenge the very  existence of this oppressive capitalist system.

How did Yohn specifically apply the AEDPA to this recent  Mumia petition? According to the Yohn ruling, "because the  statute of limitations for asserting the Beverly claim had  expired, petitioner is also precluded from requesting  discovery (or new evidence) regarding the claim. Moreover,  the Commonwealth argues that because petitioner cannot  satisfy the requirements for an evidentiary hearing as set  forth in the AEDPA ... he is likewise not entitled to  discovery concerning the Beverly claim."

Yohn admits that the AEDPA exists to limit the access to  federal habeas corpus for the petitioner or defendant. This  "limitation" means factual evidence not raised during the  original state trial will not be taken into consideration.

Yohn also dismisses Abu-Jamal's claim that the prosecutor  during his state trial purposely suppressed evidence that  would have cleared him of all charges. Key prosecution  witnesses Veronica Jones and Robert Chobert retracted their  earlier testimony during post-conviction relief hearings in  1995 and 1996. These witnesses and others said they had been  coerced by the Fraternal Order of Police into falsely  accusing Abu-Jamal of shooting Officer Faulkner.

Yohn's "reasoning" is that even if Beverly's confession were  credible, the confession could not be tied to any of the  suppressed evidence and does not prove that the government  consciously or unconsciously suppressed or possessed any  evidence in order to conspire against Mumia.

Yohn also states that based on the AEDPA, the timeline for  submitting the Beverly claim to the federal district court  began on Oct. 15, 1999, and ended on June 8, 2000. He goes  on further to say that "before a district court can consider  the merits of a state prisoner's habeas corpus petition, he  must have exhausted all available state remedies."

In fact, Abu-Jamal's new attorneys have filed a legal brief  of over 300 pages with the state court claiming "ineffective  counsel" in reference to Leonard Weinglass and Dan Williams,  who were Abu-Jamal's attorneys during the period that  Beverly made his confession.

The state court has set a tentative date of Aug. 17 to hear  oral arguments based on this brief. Whether Abu-Jamal will  be present during this hearing has not been verified.

This legal ruling by Yohn has deeper political ramifications  for the progressive movement. It shows once again that the  capitalist courts cannot be relied upon to mete out real  justice for the masses. The AEDPA was supposedly enacted to  fight "domestic terrorism," but the real terrorists are the  courts and the U.S. government, which will use legal and  technical jargon as a cover to send the poor and most  oppressed to be legally lynched at an unprecedented pace.

While it is helpful and important to make sense of what is  legally going on with Mumia Abu-Jamal's case, what will  ultimately be decisive is the mobilization of the masses in  the streets to demand the freedom for this heroic  revolutionary.


Statement/Affidavit of Arnold Beverly/MUMIA      Also in Spanish

Video Deposition of Arnold Beverly who states that he shot Faulkner as part of a mob hit squad and declares that Mumia did not shoot Faulkner. 4:45 Minutes

Full text of ruling in pdf format


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