The subsequent case against the “MOVE 9,” was plagued by factual inconsistencies and illegal police manipulation of evidence.
Temple University professor and Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington covered the August 8 confrontation and the trial of the MOVE 9. Interviewed in the recent documentary MOVE, narrated by Howard Zinn, Washington stated that “the police department knows who killed Officer Ramp. It was another police officer, who inadvertently shot the guy. They have fairly substantial evidence that it was a mistake, but again they’ll never admit it. I got this from a number of different sources in the police department, including sources on the SWAT team and sources in ballistics.”
Manipulation of evidence began immediately after the MOVE adults were arrested: Mayor Rizzo ordered the police to bulldoze MOVE’s home by 1:30pm that day. Police did nothing to preserve the crime scene, inscribe chalk marks, or measure ballistics angles. In a preliminary hearing on a Motion to Dismiss, MOVE unsuccessfully argued that destroying their home had prevented them from proving that it was physically impossible for MOVE to have shot Ramp. MOVE cited the case of Illinois Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark where the preservation of the crime scene enabled investigators to prove that all the bullet holes in the walls and doors were the result of police gunfire.
The photographic evidence presented in court was also incomplete. Before demolishing MOVE’s house, police did take photos of empty shelves and claimed they had been used to store their guns. However, there were no photos of MOVE pointing or shooting guns from the basement windows, of police removing weapons from the house, or supporting the claim that police removed guns from the mud of the basement floor. To the contrary, a police video viewed in court actually shows then police commissioner Joseph O’Neill passing guns into MOVE’s front basement window.
Strongly suggesting the deliberate destruction of evidence, police video footage was also blanked out at the point where Ramp was shot on all three police videotapes presented in court.
Ballistics evidence presented about Officer Ramp’s death is also inconsistent. In the documentary film MOVE, Linn Washington recalls the treatment of evidence at the trial. “They had a big problem with the authenticity and thus the validity of the medical examiner’s report. The prosecutor took out a pencil and erased items in the report that he didn’t like. Now MOVE was objecting and the judge was saying ‘sit down and shut up’ and allowed the guy to do that.”
On Aug.8, The Philadelphia Bulletin reported that Ramp had been “shot in the back of the head according to the police log.” The next day, the Daily News instead reported that the bullet head entered his throat at a downward trajectory in the direction towards his heart. Later, in court, the prosecution’s medical examiner, Dr. Marvin Aronson testified that the bullet entered his “chest from in front and coursed horizontally without deviation up or down.”
In their recent newsletter, MOVE argues that if they had shot from the basement, the bullet would have been coming at an “upward” trajectory instead of the “horizontal” and “downward” accounts that had been presented. This crucial point aside, it would have been essentially impossible to take a clean shot at that time. The water in the basement, estimated more than 7 feet deep, forced the adults to hold up children and animals to prevent them from drowning. “The water pressure was so powerful it was picking up 6 foot long railroad ties (beams that were part of our fence) and throwing them through the basement windows in on us. There’s no way anybody could have stood up against this type of water pressure, debris, and shoot a gun, or aim to kill somebody.”
On May 4, 1980, Janine, Debbie, Janet, Merle, Delbert, Mike, Phil, Eddie, and Chuck Africa were convicted of 3rd degree murder, conspiracy, and multiple counts of attempted murder and aggravated assault. Each was given a sentence of 30-100 years. Two other people denounced MOVE and were released. Consuela Africa was tried separately because the prosecutor found no evidence that she was a MOVE member.
Mumia Abu-Jamal writes that the MOVE 9 “were convicted of being united, not in crime, but in rebellion against the system and in resistance to the armed assaults of the state. They were convicted of being MOVE members.”
When Judge Malmed was a guest a few days later on a talk radio show, Abu-Jamal called in and asked him who killed Ramp. The Judge admitted, “I have absolutely no idea” and explained that since MOVE called itself a family, he sentenced them as such.
Preparing for 2008 Parole Hearing
Mike Africa, Jr. wants his parents to come home. The son of MOVE 9 prisoners Mike and Debbie, Mike Jr. was born in prison just weeks after his mother withstood police gunfire and a vicious beating on Aug. 8, 1978. Today, Mike Jr. explains that growing up without parents is “very hard. It’s like missing part of yourself. The system separated MOVE people like they did because they know it’s hard to deal with being separated from your family.”
After the May 13, 1985 bombing, Mike Jr’s grandmother decided to leave MOVE, and brought him and his sister with her. “Not being in MOVE and not having parents was especially hard because I didn’t understand why my parents were in prison I was ashamed. It was never really explained to me until Ramona brought me back to MOVE following her 1992 release.” Since returning to MOVE, Mike Jr. has traveled around the world publicizing the struggle to release his parents and the other MOVE 9 prisoners.
August 2008 will mark the 30th year of the MOVE 9’s imprisonment, and they will be eligible for parole for the first time. MOVE has begun to organize and raise public support for their release. Ramona Africa is particularly concerned about two possible clauses that can be implemented to deny parole.
First is the “taking responsibility” clause, which basically demands a prisoner admit guilt in order to be granted parole. “That is not acceptable, because it is patently illegal. If a person was convicted in court, to then demand that they admit guilt -- even when they are maintaining their innocence, as the MOVE 9 are -- is ridiculous. The only issue for parole should be issues of misconduct in prison that could indicate one’s not ready for parole. Other than that, an inmate should be paroled,” explains Ramona.