Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Legal Update on the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal--By Robert R. Bryan, Lead Counsel

Legal Update

Date: June 6, 2009
From: Robert R. Bryan, lead counsel
Subject: Mumia Abu-Jamal, death row, Pennsylvania


In recent months there have been significant legal developments concerning my client, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on Pennsylvania's death row for nearly three decades. We are presently litigating on his behalf in both the United States Supreme Court and the trial court, the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia.

Mumia's life on the line in this monumental struggle. He is in the greatest danger since his arrest in 1981.

Like so many on death row, Mumia has been a victim of poverty, racial bigotry, fraud, inadequate legal representation, and an unfair trial. The trial judge was a racist who referred to my client as a "nigger" whom he was going to help the prosecution "fry." Prior case lawyers failed to investigate and present pivotal issues both at trial and in the post-conviction process, thereby limiting what could be considered by the Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. Below is a brief summary of case developments.

U.S. Supreme Court, Washington

There have been two separate cases pending in the Supreme Court concerning Mumia. One involves strictly the death penalty, while the other concerns the prosecution's use of racism in jury selection.

Abu-Jamal v. Beard, U.S. Sup. Ct. No. 08-8483

This case related to the Philadelphia District Attorney's use of racism in selecting the jury that decided both the question of guilt and whether my client should die. The prosecutor used 66.67% of his available strikes to exclude African Americans from sitting on the jury. A judge in the lower federal court determined there was clear evidence that the prosecutor's strikes of black people was race-based and thus unconstitutional. The dissenting justice in a 2-1 decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, found overwhelming evidence of racism by the prosecutor. (Abu-Jamal v. Horn, 520 F.3d 272 (3rd Cir. 2008).) He explained that the “core guarantee of equal protection, ensuring citizens that their State will not discriminate on account of race, would be meaningless were we to approve the exclusion of jurors on the basis of . . . race. . . . I respectfully dissent.”

On April 6, 2009, the Supreme Court declined to hear our case. This came as a profound disappointment and shock, even though the court rejects 98-99% of cases presented for review. Mumia's case was exceptional, especially in view of the powerful dissenting decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals. Our strong constitutional position was bolstered by briefing from the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, which I had invited into the case to address the racism issue. Tragically the court turned its back on it own case law which held that racism in jury selection offends the U.S. Constitution and mandates a new trial. Our extensive briefing had laid out the overwhelming evidence establishing the prosecutor's race-based behavior and the racially-charged atmosphere of the trial. On May 1, I submitted a Petition for Rehearing, which has been rejected.

Beard v. Abu-Jamal, Sup. Ct. No. 08-652

We are still litigating in the Supreme Court in an entirely separate case in which the prosecution is seeking to overturn the victory achieved last year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In that ruling, the court ordered a new jury trial on the question of the death penalty. Both sides have gone back and forth in briefing in the Supreme Court. Due to developments in another case with a similar issue, it may be several months before Mumia's case is decided. If we win, then there will be a new jury trial. In the event of an adverse decision, the prosecution would push for a quick execution.

Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia, Commonwealth v. Abu-Jamal, Nos. 1357-1359

On April 20, 2009, we filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus Relief in the trial court, the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. At issue is the fact that Mumia was convicted on the basis of unreliable and incomplete expert ballistics testimony presented by the prosecution during the 1982 trial. We have also moved for discovery of all related evidence possessed by the prosecution.

Other Developments in Europe and the United States

In this country the support and activism of the National Lawyers Guild has been crucial on our work on behalf of Mumia. The cry for justice in the case of Mumia continues to be particularly strong in Europe. As an example, on May 17, 2009 a feature article datelined Paris appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. The piece is reprinted at the the end of this Legal Update and available online with photographs at:

It describes the activism of committed French human-rights activists on behalf of Mumia, which has drawn considerable attention in the U.S.

United States

Many people have heard about the support for Mumia by the National Lawyers Guild, headquartered in New York with chapters across the country, but know little of the details. Since its founding in 1937 the NLG has provided legal support to a wide range of legal and social movements, starting with drafting New Deal legislation and aiding in the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the United Auto Workers (UAW). It has actively supported labor rights and played a central role in defending individuals targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

NLG lawyers, legal workers and law students participated in the Civil Rights movement and opened "people's law offices" in the South. In the 1990s and into the new millennium the organization's scope widened to include protecting individual rights against the increasing dominance of corporations, legal defense at mass demonstrations, and training lawyers about developments in the law such as newly developing anti-terrorism legislation. The NLG aggressively opposes the death penalty, and many of its attorneys specialize in capital defense work.

That included the legal effort to save Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed June 19,1953 in New York. Each year the NLG features a "Student Day Against the Death Penalty," and actively assists 100 student chapters in hosting public education events to raise awareness of the multitude of problems with the death penalty and to work toward its abolition. Law professor members and students have hosted hundreds of events featuring leading capital defense attorneys and former death-row inmates, and the NLG provides an organizing kit to students to help facilitate events against capital punishment.

Mumia's case has been a national priority of the NLG for over two decades. For many years he has served on the Board of Directors as Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President. At the annual conventions numerous resolutions have been passed seeking a new and fair trial and over the years the NLG has co-sponsored events around the country related to his case. Three years ago I invited the Guild to file an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on his behalf.

Thereafter a brief was submitted on the issue of the death penalty and other issues by Heidi Boghosian, NLG Executive Director, a member professor from George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and others in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Further, Ms Boghosian, an outstanding lawyer, has been active is assisting me in the representation of Mumia for many years, and has joined me in a number of client meetings. Mumia has enormous respect and trust for her and the NLG.


In Berlin on March 27, the prestigious Akademie der Künst (Academy of Arts), located two doors from the U.S. Embassy at the Brandenburg Gate, hosted an outstanding panel discussion on Mumia as a journalist, author, and political prisoner. It originated from the efforts of the writer Sabine Kebir, PEN, and Nicole Bryan. The audience filled the auditorium. Participating in the human-rights event were: Madame Danielle Mitterrand, former First Lady of France; Klaus Staeck, President of the Akademie; Johano Strasser, President of PEN Germany; Günter Wallraff, a well known author; Gerhart Rudolf Baum, former Minister of the Interior, the Bundestag (parliament), and United Nations representative; and me. A video of the entire event is available on the Internet, at: http://www.adk.de/de/aktuell/forum_dokumentationen/forum_27.Akadgespr.html. The commitment of supporters in Germany is a model of activism, especially those in Berlin, Hamburg and Bremen.

France The movement for Mumia in France is excellent. It is led by the Collectif "Ensemble Sauvons Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Together We Will Save Mumia Abu-Jamal), composed of approximately 80 organizations. In Prison My Whole Life, the outstanding film on Mumia, is being shown in theaters throughout the country and continues to draw acclaim at film festivals. In Paris on March 15, it was awarded the Grand Prix and the Planete Prix at the Film Festival of Human Rights (Le Festival International du Film des Droits de l'Homme).

In my two speeches at the awards ceremony, I accepted the prizes not only on behalf of Mumia, but also "for all the men, women and children who are on death rows around the world." Amnesty International, a past winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a sponsor of the film. Claude Guillaumaud-Pujol, author of Mumia Abu-Jamal: The Voice of the Voiceless, and I spoke after each presentation. The movie was also featured in the Lyon International Film Festival last October. Mumia is grateful to Jacky Hortaut and the many supporters in France who do so much in the cause of justice.


On April 3 and and 4, In Prison My Whole Life was shown at Amnesty International's Movies That Matter film festival in The Hague and Amsterdam. Nicole and I participated in both events. There was a panel discussion following each showing in which Arlette Stuip, who attended Goddard College with Mumia, Ms. Guillaumaud-Pujol, and I discussed the case and answered questions.

Donations for Mumia's Legal Defense in the U.S. Our legal effort is the front line of the battle for Mumia's freedom and life. His legal defense needs help. The costs are substantial for our litigation in the U.S. Supreme Court and at the state level. To help, please make your checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild Foundation (indicate "Mumia" on the bottom left). All donations are tax deductible under the Internal Revenue Code Code, section 501(c)(3), and should be mailed to:

Committee To Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
P.O. Box 2012
New York, NY 10159-2012


It is outrageous and a violation of human rights that Mumia remains in prison and on death row. His life hangs in the balance. My career has been marked by successfully representing people facing death in murder cases. I will not rest until we win Mumia's case. Justice requires no less.

With best wishes,

Robert R. Bryan
Law Offices of Robert R. Bryan
2088 Union Street, Suite 4
San Francisco, CA 94123-4117
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal

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