Update on Mumia


Clark Kissinger

Mumia’s

legal team and the attorneys for the state of Pennsylvania were asked to a

meeting this past Tuesday morning with federal judge William Yohn in his

chambers to "get acquainted." This was expected and is usually the way

a major case like this begins.

When

they arrived at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, they were conducted into the courtroom

where Judge Yohn took the bench and went on the record. This was totally

unexpected since the defense team had not even filed the necessary papers to

allow them to appear in the federal district court for Eastern Pennsylvania

(they are from another federal court district).

There

was no one else present in the courtroom except a Philadelphia Inquirer court

reporter. This is when Judge Yohn announced that he was granting the stay of

execution, although he did not sign it on the spot. [A number of people have

asked if the stay is "permanent" or "temporary." Such a stay

is a temporary order, preventing the execution until the judge can consider the

petition to have Mumia's original conviction overturned. Once the case is ruled

on by the judge, the stay will be "vacated" (ended)].

The

judge asked where the trial record was, and the state said that they would bring

it in for him.

Since

the petition submitted by Mumia’s lawyers on October 16 contained only the

arguments regarding facts, the judge ordered them to submit a memorandum of law

citing the relevant legal precedents for the requests they have made in their

petition for a writ of habeas corpus. This is to be submitted by December 7.

The

state then asked for 90 days to respond, but the judge gave them only 60 days to

submit a reply (which would be by February 11). Then Len Weinglass asked for 30

days to file a short rejoined to the state’s reply, and he was given 20 days and

a limit of 20 pages (this would be due on March 2).

After

the judge gets all these papers, he will then set a date for the first major

court appearance, at which time Mumia will be present. Thus Mumia’s first court

appearance could be in early March, but could be later depending on the judge’s

calendar and case load.

Weinglass

raised the issues of discovery (an order from the court to the state to produce

key documents) and an evidentiary hearing (where witnesses would be questioned).

The judge indicated that the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act made an

evidentiary hearing unlikely, but he told Weinglass to put his argument for such

a hearing in his Dec. 7 filing. In response to the judge’s questions, Weinglass

indicated that were 10 to 15 (of the 29 issues raised) on which he would like to

present evidence, and he thought it would take two or three weeks to do so. (If

the judge denies an evidentiary hearing, he will be in the position of

condemning Mumia without even hearing from him.)

After

Judge Yohn rules of some of the procedural points (perhaps in March), such as

discovery and an evidentiary hearing, there is expected to be another round of

legal briefs, followed by oral arguments.

Several

other issues came up. First, the judge asked if Mumia’s attorneys were aware

that the state could "depose" Mumia. (They did know this.) Since a

petition of habeas corpus is a civil action, the "respondents" (those

named in Mumia’s petition as holding him illegally) are allowed to take a

deposition, that is, question Mumia under oath. (Mumia can have his attorneys

present if this happens.)

The

judge indicated that Mumia will be present for all hearings in his court, and he

asked Mumia’s attorneys if they had any concern about Mumia’s safety. Weinglass

raised the issue that Sabo had allowed large numbers of armed police in the

courtroom. Judge Yohn said that there would be no armed cops as spectators in

his courtroom.

The

judge also brought up the issue of the letters he has been receiving. Weinglass

asked if he had been receiving mail from both sides, and he replied "No,

only for a new trial." He indicated that he didn’t think it would be

correct for him to read them, and asked if Weinglass would accept them (which he

agreed to do). Later the judge mentioned that he had received a very few letters

opposing a new trial, and he would give these to the state.

Weinglass

has already received over 500 letters directly from the public, and he indicates

that some of them are very moving and should be printed.

We

cannot draw any definitive conclusions about this judge from this one short

encounter. A great range of this possibilities exist, from a worst case scenario

of no evidentiary hearing and a quick summary judgment against Mumia; to a

hearing with unknown results; to a summary judgment (without a hearing) in

Mumia’s favor.

The

main thing we learned was the schedule of events for the next few months. This

does not mean that people can now "relax." We are now on the federal

fast track, and every day counts in building the movement to save and win a new

trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

 

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