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Politics Mondays: Mumia’s Lawyer Gives Update On Case by Monica Moorehead

Robert R. Bryan, a San Francisco-based lawyer and lead counsel for death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, spoke before a packed auditorium at Ford ham University on March 21. Bryan presented a legal update on Abu-Jamal’s current appeals, which are before the U.S. Court of Appeals Third Circuit based in Phila delphia. (Go to to read a Jan. 24, 2006, summary.)

This appeals petition raises specific issues that are critical to Mumia’s struggle to ultimately gain his freedom, including the systematic, racist exclusion of Black jurors by the Philadelphia prosecution and racist comments made by the late Judge Albert Sabo against Abu-Jamal during the original trial in 1982. Sabo sat on the bench during the 1982 trial and the 1995-96 post-conviction relief hearing for Abu-Jamal.

A former Black Panther and award-winning journalist, Abu-Jamal was shot by police and then arrested on Dec. 9, 1981, for allegedly killing a white policeman in Philadelphia. A sham of a trial resulted in a first-degree murder conviction for Abu-Jamal on July 3, 1982. He has faced two death warrants, which were revoked due to mass pressure here and worldwide.

Bryan—along with Robert Meeropol, son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, communists who were executed by the U.S. government back in 1953—urged activists from diverse political persuasions to unite to strengthen the support movement to fight for Abu-Jamalfreedom.

Author and attorney Brian Glick gave a brief history of Abu-Jamal’s long-time revolutionary activism to illustrate that he is on death row for his political beliefs and not for the shooting. Mumia sent an audio-taped greeting to the meeting.

Deborah Small, a founder of Break the Chains: Communities of Color and also the War on Drugs organization, spoke on the relationship between the prison-industrial complex and U.S. drug laws that criminalize people of color and the poor.

The meeting was organized by the National Lawyers Guild’s Fordham Uni ver sity Law School chapter and its national chapters. An interview with Bryan by WBAI’s Ken Nash and Mimi Rosenberg can be heard at


January 24 , 2006
Legal Update from Robert Bryan
Re: Mumia Abu-Jamal v. Martin Horn, Pennsylvania Director of Corrections
U.S. Court of Appeals Nos. 01-9014, 02-9001
(death penalty)

Dear Friends:

Last month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia, issued the most important decision affecting my client, Mumia Abu-Jamal, since his arrest nearly a quarter of a century ago. (See PDF)

This is the first time any court has made a ruling that could lead to a new trial and his freedom. The court has accepted for review the following issues raised on federal habeas corpus and in the subsequent appeal, all of which are of great constitutional significance concerning the right to a fair trial, due process of law, and equal protection of the law under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution:

Claim 14: Whether appellant was denied his constitutional rights due to the prosecution's trial summation?

Claim 16: Whether the Commonwealth’s use of peremptory challenges at trial violated appellant's constitutional rights under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)?

Claim 29: Whether appellant was denied due process during post-conviction proceedings as a result of alleged judicial bias?

Claim 14 relates to the prosecutor’s prejudicial argument to the jury including the comment that if convicted Mumia would have “appeal after appeal.” That reduced the burden on the jurors, and turned the concept of reasonable doubt and presumption of innocence on its head.

Claim 16 concerns the prosecutorial use of peremptory challenges to remove African-Americans from the jury. The record establishes that race is a major thread that has run throughout this case since Mumia’s 1981 arrest.

Claim 29 is about the bias and racism of the trial judge, Albert Sabo. Evidence was discovered in recent years through a courageous court stenographer, who overheard the judge say during a trial recess that he was “going to help ’em fry the n****r.”

Another issue under consideration by the federal court, Claim 25, pertains to the death penalty. It addresses whether the death judgment can stand due to an unfair jury instruction. Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988).

The case is now moving rapidly. The court has issued a schedule for extensive briefing, with the first brief to be filed by the prosecution. The District Attorney made a 30-day extension-of-time request, which has been granted, so its initial brief is now due on February 16. The complicated briefing process will go through the spring. Then we will present oral argument before a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

This is a giant step in our effort to secure a new and fair trial for Mumia. Our goal is to win in this life-and-death struggle and see him walk out of jail a free person. However, we must not forget that Mumia remains in enormous danger. If the case is lost, he will die in the execution chamber.

Thank you for your concern and support in this campaign for justice.

Cordially yours,

Robert R. Bryan
Law Offices of Robert R. Bryan
San Francisco, California
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal

This article appears in Worker's World.

Monica Moorehead

Monday, April 3, 2006

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