A clear case of open-and-shut guilt is how Philadelphia police and prosecutors describe the first-degree murder conviction that sent journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal to death row over a quarter century ago.
However, just a quick peek underneath the surface of this case reveals a litany of errors and wrongdoing by police, prosecutors and judges that implode all claims of Abu-Jamal's absolute guilt.
The case against the world's most famous death-row denizen arguably contains compelling aspects of apparent guilt, albeit circumstantial and lacking the conclusive forensic evidence normally expected in such a high-profile prosecution.
Yes, police did find Abu-Jamal at the crime scene, critically wounded by a bullet fired from the slain policeman's gun.
Yes, eyewitnesses testified that Abu-Jamal shot Officer Daniel Faulkner.
Yes, two policemen claimed hearing Abu-Jamal confess to the crime.
And, yes, courts from Philadelphia's Common Pleas up to the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction.
Yet, arguably compelling aspects cannot quell serious questions arising from the mound of documented misconduct by authorities in Abu-Jamal's case that make a mockery of America's constitutionally enshrined rights to a fair trial.
While fair trial rights require an impartial judge, the judge presiding at Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial declared on the eve of that proceeding that he would help prosecutors "fry the n----r" — a declaration graphically displaying unfair bias.
Five of the seven Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who unanimously upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction in 1998 received critical political and other assistance from Philadelphia's police union — the main group pushing for Abu-Jamal's execution.
That entanglement undermined the appearance of impartiality required of jurists by Pennsylvania's Code of Judicial Conduct.
One of those five justices in 1998 — Ronald D. Castille, a former district attorney of Philadelphia who fought to execute Abu-Jamal — rejected recusal requests that cited code provisions barring participation of a judge who had "served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy ""
The "overt hostility of the trial judge and the appearance of judicial bias during appellate review" render Abu-Jamal's "verdict and sentence fundamentally unsound," Amnesty International noted in its seminal February 2000 study of this contentious case that recommended a new trial for Abu-Jamal.
Facts Don't Fit
Consider the fact that the two policemen who claimed hearing Abu-Jamal confess hours after Faulkner's fatal shooting waited several weeks to report this key evidence to detectives.