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Justice For Mumia Abu-Jamal

by Steff Yorek |
February 1, 2000
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There has been a positive new development in the struggle to free Mumia Abu- Jamal. Judge William H. Yohn, a Pennsylvania District Court judge, has agreed to review the entire trial record before he makes his decision on whether or not to grant an evidentiary hearing in Mumia's case.


Mumia Abu Jamal is a political prisoner on Pennsylvania's death row. Before his arrest he was an activist and journalist, a fighter for racial and economic justice in Philadelphia. He was convicted of shooting a police officer in a sham trial. Witnesses against him were threatened into testifying by the police. Routine tests on his gun, which may have cleared him, were never done or were lost. Police officers made up a confession three months after the fact, saying that they didn't think it was important enough to write down at the time. The prosecution argued for the death penalty based on his political beliefs.

For 15 years, supporters of Mumia have worked hard to save his life. For 15 years, Mumia has continued to speak out, "Live from Death Row." Now, the next few months will determine what happens.

Decisive Period

The case is now in Federal Court. This is the last chance to have new evidence heard and to win a new trial based on that evidence. Judge Yohn does not have to grant an evidentiary hearing, and a 1996 law encourages judges in death penalty cases not to.

Tens of thousands of people have written letters to the judge, demanding that a hearing be held. Despite this, until recently it looked like the judge would not do the kind of review necessary to grant such a hearing. But now he has agreed to look at the whole record, and to take arguments from Mumia's lawyers about why he should not leave the State Court's "finding of fact" to stand. This is a positive step forward.

This is not the time to stop our protest. The timing of this new ruling is striking. It happened immediately after an international delegation met with attorneys from the justice department and presented them with 200,000 signatures to demanding justice for Mumia Abu Jamal. This stands as a reminder to the power of organizing.

By mid-April, Judge Yohn will make a decision on whether new evidence will ever be heard. Representatives of the campaign to free Mumia are asking that 100,000 letters be sent to the judge by then. They call on supporters, "Can't we all take this case to our schools, churches, professional associations, unions, and even to our friends and families?" They go on to say, "The next few months must feature our best efforts, our strongest measures, our most creative energies."