One of the three defense points the 3rd Court of Appeals rejected in its March 27, 2008 decision not to grant Abu-Jamal a new trial or at least new hearings in any form was the claim that the behavior of the original trial judge Albert Sabo during the 1995, 1996, and 1997 post-conviction hearings was so unfair and unconstitutional as to warrant relief.
In its decision, the court gave this point short shrift and referred to one of its earlier decisions where it says it held that federal “habeas proceedings are not the appropriate forum … to pursue claims of error at the PCRA proceeding.” Given the date of that decision (Lambert v. Blackwell), October 12, 2004, it is curious why the court certified Abu-Jamal’s PCRA claim in the first place, a certification that took place only on December 6, 2005.
But maybe that is just another one of the irregularities in court behavior which seem to almost inevitably crop up whenever it comes to Mumia Abu-Jamal. On a more substantive level, the courts recent decision practically says that however biased, immoral and outrageous a judge’s behavior may be during PCRA proceedings, it will no longer be subject to federal review.
This in alone is reason enough to strongly protest the recent court decision, since as we will see in a moment, Albert F. Sabo posture and deeds during Abu-Jamal’s 1995-97 hearings fit all the adjectives just mentioned, and more. The following article is an abbreviated, stripped-down to bullet points form of a much longer, amply footnoted article on the same topic which will be published on www.abu-jamal-news.com towards the end of April 2008.
Unfortunately, there is no time or space here to go into the horrendous – or “disturbing” – as the Philadelphia Inquirer politely called it in 1995 – performance of Judge Sabo at Abu-Jamal’s original 1982 murder trial.
Since this behavior, which reached from stripping Abu-Jamal of his right to self-representation, the seating of manifestly biased jurors, the undue haste with which he conducted the trial, the blocking of areas of evidence and examination vital to the defense to the toleration of unconstitutional remarks by the prosecutor and much, much more, has been amply documented elsewhere, I will constrain myself to one single point concerning the original trial.
On March 18, 1982, Abu-Jamal’s then lawyer Anthony Jackson made a motion to the pre-trial judge, Judge Ribner, to have questionnaires sent out to prospective jurors in the case to enable the defense to see to it that the jury finally empanelled would be impartial and fair. This was to supply the defense beforehand with more information about the jurors, and one of the reasons why Jackson said that information was needed was the systematic exclusion of black jurors by Philadelphia prosecutors by means of peremptory strikes.
Ribner, himself a harsh jurist who presided over 9 death sentences, transferred the decision to the trial judge, Albert Sabo, who dealt with the question on June 4 at one of the suppression hearings (during the brief period when Abu-Jamal was allowed to represent himself), of course found the concerns of the defense unfounded and a questionnaire for prospective jurors unnecessary, referring even to alleged Pennsylvania court procedure that disallowed it.