yet another step in the government’s plan to railroad Mumia Abu-Jamal into the
death chamber, a federal court has refused to take testimony from a man named
Arnold Beverly, who has come forward to state that he is the person who actually
shot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. A man has come forward to say that
he committed the crime, and Federal District Judge William H. Yohn will not even
listen to what he has to say.
anything were to happen to Beverly before he can come to court, his testimony
would now be lost. The purpose in requesting his deposition was to protect that
testimony for the record. A deposition is much like the appearance of a witness
in court. The witness is sworn in, is questioned by both sides, and his
testimony is recorded. Such a deposition can later be used in court if the
witness is unavailable.
denying Mumia’s request to depose Beverly, the July 19 federal court decision
went far beyond a simple “No.” Judge Yohn took the occasion to write a 12-page
lecture on how the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act will be
used to block virtually every avenue of appeal by Mumia.
a man’s life is on the line—especially a revolutionary who represents the
aspirations of the people—the courts have a moral obligation to hear any and all
evidence that might support his case. The people must now demand that they do
the Effective Death Penalty Act Against Mumia
denying Mumia’s request, the federal court repeatedly cited the 1996 Effective
Death Penalty Act, a law whose very purpose was to cut off the ability of
persons wrongfully convicted in the state courts to seek justice through the
the court were truly interested in justice, wouldn’t it want to hear a witness
like Beverly? Wouldn’t the law make it easy for that to happen? On the TV show
Law & Order we are told every week that the District Attorney doesn’t just try
to convict, he seeks the truth. But is that what happened here? No. The
Philadelphia DA strongly opposed deposing Beverly. This is the DA who had told
the press that Beverly’s statement was ridiculous. Now when given an opportunity
to cross examine him under oath and “expose” him, this same DA said “no way.” In
agreeing to this, the federal court gave the Pennsylvania prosecutors exactly
what they wanted, and much more.
court went out of its way to list every conceivable reason why the testimony of
Beverly should not be recorded. The decision listed all the various ways that
the Effective Death Penalty Act applied, even speaking to issues that had not
been raised. Why? Because the court is sending a message to Mumia, to his
lawyers, and to the people, that it is deadly serious in seeking to execute
Mumia and it intends to apply the Effective Death Penalty Act in the strictest
manner to this case—knowing full well that the purpose of that law is to prevent
appeals and speed up executions.
court’s decision threw everything except the kitchen sink at Mumia’s request.
The court said that Mumia had not shown “good cause” to take a deposition of
Beverly. It said that Mumia was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on
Beverly, therefore he could not be deposed. It said that Beverly’s testimony
(which contradicts claims of prosecution witnesses) was not relevant to any
constitutional claims made by Mumia. It said that the time deadline for raising
the Beverly testimony was past. It said that the state courts had to rule first
on the Beverly testimony. And it said that Beverly’s testimony would not have
influenced a jury to acquit Mumia anyhow.
the court got the heart of the issue by saying that the Beverly testimony points
to “a potential claim of actual innocence.” Citing the infamous Herrera decision
of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, Judge Yohn stated that “such a claim, absent
an independent constitutional violation, may not be the subject of a federal
habeas petition.” What he is saying is this: Don’t even think about claiming
that Mumia is innocent in this court, because the Supreme Court has ruled that
actual innocence is not an issue for the federal courts to review.
Almost 100 people have now been freed from death row in the United States after
it was shown that they were innocent. This has required enormous effort by
attorneys, journalists, students, and activists, because the federal courts
increasingly refuse to protect the innocent. As Chief Justice Renquist wrote in
the Herrera decision: “In criminal cases, the [state] trial is the paramount
event for determining the defendant’s guilty or innocence. . . . Federal courts
do not sit to correct errors of fact, but to ensure that individuals are not
imprisoned in violation of the Constitution.”
Finally, in a most revealing move, Judge Yohn added that the Pennsylvania state
courts also ought to reject the Beverly testimony, even going so far as to
suggest to the Pennsylvania courts what sections of Pennsylvania law they should
cite in rejecting Mumia’s petition. Here the federal court is simply giving the
green light in advance to the state courts to block any testimony by Beverly.
Mumia’s Fight to a Whole New Level
this shows once again the seriousness of this struggle, and the fact that we can
never depend on the courts for justice. It brings home in sharp terms just how
determined this government is to take Mumia’s life, and the sort of struggle
that it’s actually going to take to stop them and to free Mumia. It will require
a movement that presents this government with a political situation where they
stand to lose far more in trying to carry out their vicious execution plans than
they could ever hope to gain.
ruling class of this country has made it clear that the expanded use of the
death penalty is a big part of their whole political agenda. It is an instrument
of their dictatorship. It was hailed by both Bush and Gore in the last
election. But that does not mean that they cannot be defeated. The system is
vicious, but it is also vulnerable. Everywhere people are rising up against them
from youth battling the police in Genoa, to the Philly Freedom Summer in the
streets of Philadelphia, to the high schools and colleges fighting to hear Mumia
at their graduations, to the prominent people and foreign governments demanding
justice in this case.
Speaking to the Mumia mobilizations on May 12, I said it will require us “to
raise the specter of determined resistance, that combines our rich social
diversity with the audacity of the youth in a movement that will never step back
from the challenge that is before us.” Now we must make good on that challenge.
Stop the Execution! Overturn the Conviction! Free Mumia!