By Linn Washington, Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams possesses a rare opportunity to make a legacy mark by cleaning up a toxic mess polluting Philly's justice system for nearly thirty years.
Williams can utilize an obscure yet occasionally utilized legal procedure to end the injustice involving the world's most identifiable death row inmate, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who worked as a journalist in Philadelphia before his controversial 1982 murder conviction for killing a policeman.
This legal procedure, known as an Alford Plea, is a win-win situation for Williams and Abu-Jamal.
This procedure requires the inmate to concede that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict while requiring prosecutors to permit the inmate to maintain their innocence.
Williams the prosecutor gets his pound-of-flesh satisfaction of having kept Abu-Jamal in prison since his December 1981 arrest.
Abu-Jamal gains release from a conviction riddled with constitutional rights sabotaging misconduct by police, prosecutors and judges as amply documented by numerous investigators including Amnesty International.
Defendants and inmates in criminal cases from political corruption to murder, including murders of police officers, have utilized Alford Pleas.
Actor Vince Vaughan utilized an Alford Plea in a bar fight case while Sonia Linder Jacobs gained release from a Florida prison in 1992 after serving over 16-years for the shooting deaths of two policemen which evidence cited in court rulings indicates she did not commit.
In August the "West Memphis Three" -- three Arkansas men including one on death row -- obtained release from nearly twenty years in prison for the murders of three eight-year-old boys through an Alford Plea following DNA tests clearing this trio of involvement in that crime.
A recent by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Abu-Jamal case, declining to hear a Seth Williams challenge of a federal appeals court which for the second time had upheld a federal district court's 2001 voiding of Abu-Jamal's death sentence enables the Philadelphia DA to end the expense and acrimony of this case that has spawned books, movies and prompted years of protests around the world.
The argument that Williams cites as the strongest support of Abu-Jamal's guilt -- that courts have consistently upheld his conviction -- is actually among the weakest"exposing the grievous flaws in America's court system.
Pennsylvania state courts (trial and appellate) overturned 200 death sentences during just the period between 1978-2007, finding serious errors by police, prosecutors, defense lawyers and even judges
However, those same courts, evidencing what Amnesty International termed "politicization" in the Abu-Jamal case, illogically claimed no errors exist in the Abu--Jamal conviction--even though many of the very problems with his trial were cited in the overturning of other less prominent defendants.
One of those overturned death sentences involved a man arrested six months before Abu-Jamal in 1981, in a case involving a mob-related murder.
The judge presiding over that man's wrongful conviction civil case castigated police for framing the defendant, terming his trial a "Kafkaesque nightmare." That man, framed by two police detectives, ultimately received $1.9-million in compensation from the state for wrongfully having to spend 1,375 days on death row, where he suffered a nervous breakdown and developed ulcers.