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.
The officials in the French city that recently named a street in honor of Abu-Jamal cited the mistreatment meted to the activist/journalist by American courts.
“What is happening to Mumia Abu-Jamal is a blatant injustice,” Bobigny Mayor Catherine Peyge said during her remarks at the naming ceremony for Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal held on Saturday October 13.
“Bobigny is fighting for respect and justice for Abu-Jamal and others,” Mayor Peyge said her her city, which is located six miles from the center of Paris.
The violations of Abu-Jamal’s courtroom rights, criticized by Senator Specter, convince millions around the world that Abu-Jamal is actually not a murderer but rather a political prisoner.
Abu-Jamal is now serving a life-without-parole sentence in Pennsylvania, following his removal from death row in December 2011, a decision that resulted from a federal court ruling overturning his death sentence. The reason for that ruling was a finding that there had been jury instruction errors by Judge Sabo during Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial that would have seriously confused jurors about their right to consider mitigating circumstances on their own without the agreement of the whole panel.
That Bobigny street-naming, the second in a Paris suburb for Abu-Jamal, was the result of ten years of efforts by officials in Bobigny — efforts which included the construction of a new street.
The newly named Rue Mumia intersects a major artery in Bobigny named after a famous French author/journalist from the early 20th Century.
Bobigny and Paris are among the number of cities worldwide that have extended honorary citizen stature to Abu-Jamal, who has been incarcerated since his arrest on December 9, 1981.
Weeks ago, Republican Party national officials here in the US seized Abu-Jamal as the centerpiece for a Willie Horton-style dirty politics offensive in a suburban Philadelphia congressional race.
GOP officials unleashed a smear campaign against attorney Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat challenging incumbent GOP Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick in Bucks County, PA, castigating Boockvar as a “radical” because her lawyer husband, years earlier, had allegedly helped “cop killer” Abu-Jamal.
That candidate’s husband had in fact represented a witness during a 1996 court proceeding where that witness had recanted testimony given during Abu-Jamal’s original trial. That witness said police pressure had forced her to lie for the prosecution during the trial.
Fitzpatrick is the congressman who initiated the resolution Congress passed in December 2006 condemning the Paris suburb city of St Denis for naming a street honoring Abu-Jamal that year.
The process Congress used to approve Fitzpatrick’s resolution violated congressional procedure rules, triggering a few congressmen, like John Conyers of Detroit, to denounce that approval process.
Fitzpatrick’s resolution also contained glaring factual errors.
That resolution, for example, claimed that Abu-Jamal had struck the slain policeman “four times in the back with his gun” – a declaration contained in no official police report and that didn’t even comport with the autopsy, presented at trial, which showed only one bullet entry in Faulkner’s back.
That resolution used the word ‘struck’ making no distinction of struck as in shot or struck as in pistol whipped.
Other errors in that resolution included the proclamation that the gun Abu-Jamal used in the murder was found in his “hand.” In fact, the evidence at trial showed that police said they had recovered a gun registered to Abu-Jamal from a spot on the sidewalk at the scene of the shootings.
That handgun, incidentally, did not contain Abu-Jamal’s fingerprints, and incredibly, police claimed at the trial that they had not even performed standard gunshot-residue tests on Abu-Jamal’s hands to determine whether he had even fired a gun when Officer Daniel Faulkner was killed.
The imprecise language in Fitzpatrick’s resolution was inexcusable for an official document from the U.S. Congress.
Bobigny Mayor Peyge, during that street-naming ceremony, dedicated herself and her city to the “long fight” to free Abu-Jamal, who remains sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Peyge said she hoped naming that street for Abu-Jamal would help “open a way to fair justice.”