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General News    H1'ed 2/17/14

Pandering to the Fraternal Order of Police: Senator Calls Constitutional Win on Death Penalty ‘Undermining Justice'

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(Article changed on February 18, 2014 at 14:50)

(Article changed on February 18, 2014 at 10:26)

By Dave Lindorff

Sen. .Pander. Toomey,Nominee Adegbile and Mumia Abu-Jamal (
Sen. .Pander. Toomey,Nominee Adegbile and Mumia Abu-Jamal (
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Pennsylvania Senator Republican Pat Toomey last week went before the whole US Senate to oppose the nomination by President Obama of Debo Adegbile, former head of the litigation department of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. In his speech, Toomey tried to argue that Adegbile is unfit for the job because he supervised the Legal Defense Fund's role in helping with the appeal in federal court of the death sentence of Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal -- an appeal that ended up vacating that sentence, and that was left standing by the US Supreme Court.

Toomey's position -- that Adegbile had "undermined the justice system" by filing that appeal claiming that Abu-Jamal's death sentence had been unconstitutional -- is ludicrous on its face. For one thing, the actual argument that led to the vacating of the death sentence was developed and presented in court by attorney Judith Ritter as lead counsel. She is not affiliated with the Legal Defense Fund. Furthermore, given that the appeal was successful in federal court, and then upheld on appeal by a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and given that the US Supreme Court, asked to reverse that ruling by Philadelphia's District Attorney and the Pennsylvania Attorney General, refused to hear the case, thereby affirming it -- to say that Adegbile, whatever role he played in the case, had somehow "undermined justice" is the same as saying that a Federal District Judge, an Appellate Court panel, and the Supreme Court all "undermined justice."

That's a pretty heavy indictment, even for a self-styled "Tea Party" senator!

But Pennsylvania's junior senator didn't stop there.

In his determined effort to pander to the wishes of Pennsylvania's politically powerful police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, which has for years been pushing for Abu-Jamal's execution following his 1982 conviction for the murder of white Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, and continues to fume now that he is now "just" serving a sentence of life without chance of parole, Toomey recited many of the same tired falsehoods trotted out regularly by the FOP. He said that the 1982 trial of Abu-Jamal had "conclusively proved" that he had ruthlessly shot Officer Faulkner, first shooting the officer in the back and then standing over the "prone and helpless" officer as he lay on the ground and "pumping four more bullets into him and one in the face which killed him."

The truth is that only one of the four bullets fired at Faulkner hit him, and the scenario presented to the jury by the prosecution in the case -- namely that Abu-Jamal stood astride the fallen officer and fired point-blank downward at him -- could not have happened, since investigators found no bullet marks on the sidewalk around the spot where Faulkner was lying and there were no bullet marks in Faulkner's body, except for the fatal shot to the head.

Try and make that trick work.

Since the four-shot scenario was based upon the testimony of the prosecution's alleged "eye-witnesses," and since what they testified to could not have happened, the whole prosecution scenario must be viewed with extreme skepticism.

But it gets worse. Those four "eye witnesses" turn out not to be so reliable. One, Michael Scanlan, could not identify Abu-Jamal, and actually described the shooter as having an afro, while Abu-Jamal wore dreadlocks. Another, Albert Magilton, was in fact not even an "eye" witness at all, but only said he had "heard shots."

The most important two "witnesses," a white cab-driver named Robert Chobert, and a prostitute named Cynthia White, were almost certainly not telling the truth, and were likely coached by the prosecution and/or the police.

Let's start with Chobert. He testified that he had parked his car directly behind Faulkner's squad car, which itself was behind the VW Beetle he had stopped, which belonged to Abu-Jamal's brother Billy Cook, whom Faulkner was ticketing and arresting at the time of the shooting incident. Chobert claimed at trial to have witnessed the shooting from his seat behind the wheel of his cab. The problem with that is that the shooting occurred on the sidewalk by the curb in front of the VW. This means that for Chobert to have "witnessed" it, he would have had to be looking, in the 4 am darkness, through a police cruiser with its dome lights flashing, and through a VW Beetle sedan. And remember, Faulkner was said to have been lying on the sidewalk, with Abu-Jamal leaning over him, so the whole action would have been down behind the body of the cars. Not an easy thing to "witness" for anyone without X-ray vision.

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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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