During the jury selection process at the beginning of his trial, the presiding judge, Albert Sabo, who as a county sheriff’s deputy was an FOP member before he was made a judge, was overheard by a second judge and his court stenographer saying to his own court clerk, as he exited the courtroom through the judge’s robing room, “Yeah and I’m gonna help them fry that nigger!”
During the tortuous appeals process, both the state and federal courts have shamelessly bent their rules and violated precedents to deny Abu-Jamal the benefits of precedents that have been routinely accorded other appellants. Third Circuit Appeals Court Judge Thomas Ambro filed a stinging dissent to a decision by his two colleagues, who effectively created new law from the bench in rejecting Abu-Jamal’s well-founded Batson claim of racial bias by the prosecution during jury selection at his trail. Scarcely concealing his outrage, Judge Ambro wrote: “Our Court has previously reached the merits of Batson claims on habeas review in cases where the petitioner did not make a timely objection during jury selection — signaling that our Circuit does not have a federal contemporaneous objection rule — and I see no reason why we should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedents.” He added, “Why we pick this case to depart from that reasoning I do not know.”
Abu-Jamal himself, interviewed by phone last Friday from his cell at the super-max death row facility SCI-Greene in western Pennsylvania, blasted the attempt to silence him at the Congress, and to ostracize him from the American abolitionist movement. “They are really making deals with the devil,” he said, of claims that the US abolitionist movement was trying to gain the support of the FOP. “My instinct, being from Philadelphia, is that money was passed, though I have no evidence to prove it.” He added, “This secret action is a threat to the entire abolitionist movement. They are saying that because the opposition (to abolition) is so strong, we should not fight. If you have that attitude, why have an abolitionist movement at all?”
Abu-Jamal, whose death penalty was lifted by a federal judge in 2001, only to have the US Supreme Court remand that decision back to the Third Circuit, where it could be reimposed, and who continues, in no small part thanks to pressure from the Pennsylvania FOP, to be held in solitary confinement on death row, where he maintains his innocence, calls the signers of the memo “co-conspirators,” and says they are “naive” to believe they can win over the FOP by abandoning him to his fate.
“If the slavery abolitionists had taken this approach back in 1860,” he says, “and said okay let’s free the slaves, except those uppity ones with prices on their heads like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, we’d still have slavery today.” Abu-Jamal said it appeared that the abolitionist movement appeared to have lost its way, and said that it needed to be broadened to more closely reflect the population of the nation’s death rows. where nearly everyone is poor, and where 53% of the doomed inmates are non-white.
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