Late Senator Arlen Specter Spoke in Support of Mumia Abu-Jamal
Much is rightly made of the ‘maverick’ character of former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Arlen Specter in obituaries and other media coverage since his recent death.
That maverick streak certainly animated Specter’s December 2010 Farewell Speech from the Senate where he criticized the lack of civility currently rampant in that body plus assailed both political parties for perpetuating legislative gridlock and abuses of Senate rules.
Missing from this coverage, however, is any mention of a proper but unpopular position former prosecutor Specter took on the most contentious murder case in the history of the city where he lived – Philadelphia.
In July 1995, Specter bucked Philadelphia’s legal and political establishment by criticizing the judge then handling a pivotal appeal hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal charging that jurist with crippling proper court procedure by unfairly rushing that critical Post Conviction Relief Act hearing.
Specter offered this unusual criticism in an equally unusual forum: a speech before the Republican National Committee.
Specter, a former Philadelphia District Attorney, said the undo haste with which Judge Albert Sabo pushed along that appeal hearing was wrong. That deliberately calculated rush led to the judge's refusal to allow Abu-Jamal’s defense team adequate time to prepare, or to call key witnesses.
Specter, speaking to a group of people normally hostile to the whole concept of murder defendants receiving constitutionally mandated rights, said “Once the judge says he is entitled to a hearing, it has to be a realistic hearing and a meaningful hearing and a hearing that has adequate time for preparation.”
Sabo’s rights-robbing rush in 1995 also received strong and unusual criticism from Philadelphia’s normally anti-Abu-Jamal news media at the time. Additionally, national and international news media assailed the biased courtroom behavior of the publicly pro-prosecution Sabo, who had also been the judge at the original trial in 1982.
At that trial, Abu-Jamal was found guilty and sentenced to death for the shooting death of white Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
Sabo, following the 1995 PCRA hearing, rejected Abu-Jamal’s request for a new trial, brushing aside the fairness urgings of Senator Specter and the news media.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, three years later, upheld Sabo’s ruling.
That Court’s ruling curtly dismissed widespread media documentation of Sabo’s misbehavior at the PCRA, supplied by Abu-Jamal’s defense, with the specious contention that the opinions of a “handful of journalists” did not convince the court that Sabo acted improperly. The court didn't mention Senator Specter's prominent criticism of Sabo when bending law and logic to justify the flawed way Sabo conducted that hearing.