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Date: Mon, 11 Nov 1996 10:44:54 -0600
To: USLIST@rednet.org From: jacruz@argo.net (Jose A. Cruz) (by way of Scott Marshall <scott@rednet.org>)
Subject: Re: Mumia: Another Outrage!!

In misc.activism.progressive, JusticeNet Prison Issues Desk
<prisondesk@igc.org> wrote:

Judge Sabo Rules Against Mumia Abu-Jamal

Prison Activist Resource Center prisondesk@igc.org, Media Alert!, Friday 1 November 1996

Finds Veronica Jones' testimony of police initimidation "incredible"

Media Alert! Friday Nov. 1st 1996
Contact Jane Henderson

Philadelphia- Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Albert Sabo ruled today that the testimony of defense witness Veronica Jones was "incredible and worthy of little belief" and refused Mumia Abu-Jamal's reuqest to add it to the record of his summer 1995 post-convction review appeal (PCRA) hearing.

At a supplemental PCRA hearing on October 1st Jones testified that the Philadelphia police had coerced her into retracting her initial police statements at Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial for the shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer.

Specifically, she stated that, under police threats of 15 years in prison on unrelated felony charges, she had recanted her original, truthful statement to the police that, immediately after hearing shots, she had seen two men flee the crime. Critically wounded, Abu-Jamal had been unable to flee and was found by the police at the scene.

In his ruling today, Sabo concluded that, even if he believed Veronica's story of police initimidation, it is not significant enough to require a new trial. The judge also ignored the fact that, immediately after Jones testified, he had ordered her arrest on a 1994 warrant stemming from a bad check charge. "Given such open intimidation in court", remarked Abu-Jamal's lead attorney Leonard Weinglass, "one can only imagine what happened to Ms. Jones behind closed doors back in 1982."

Jones took the stand on October 1st as a result of a direct order from the Pennsylvnaia Supreme Court which dated September 30th, instructing the trial court to "develop a full factual record." The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had remanded the case in response to papers filed by Abu-Jamal's defense team in May which asked for a supplemental hearing "before a judge other than Sabo" so that Jones could testify.

Today's ruling came as no suprise. Sabo's September 1995 ruling on Abu-Jamal's PCRA found every defense witness incredible and every police witness credible. Abu-Jamal's appeal of that decision is still pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

A lifelong member of the Fraternal Order of Police, a group that is actively campaigning for Abu-Jamal's execution. Sabo has been extremely antagonistic to the defense. The mainstream American Lawyer has described his behavior during the summer 1995 PCRA hearing as "oozing partiality towards the prosecution." Judge Sabo has sentenced more than twice as many people to death than any other judge in the country.

In order to get a new emergency first class mailing, complete background, and legal update, and action component send your snail mail address to ejuswest@sirius.com. Send donations to fuel the campaign to Equal Justice USA at P.O. Box 5206 Hyattsville, MD 20782.

[. . .]

Background Articles in case you need them:

Judge Bars Recantation Of Witness Who Help Convict Abu-Jamal

By DINAH WISENBERG BRIN, Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- A former prostitute's effort to recant testimony that helped convict death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal is not credible and can't be considered in the ongoing appeal for a new trial, a judge ruled Friday.

Veronica Jones' claim that police coerced her into falsely testifying against Abu-Jamal 14 years ago is "worthy of little or no belief,'' wrote Judge Albert Sabo, who presided over Abu-Jamal's original trial for the murder of a police officer and a highly publicized appeal hearing last year.

Abu-Jamal's lawyers said they would appeal the ruling. They say Jones' testimony helped establish Abu-Jamal's innocence and supports the defense contention that witnesses with favorable testimony were forced to lie.

Abu-Jamal, 42, a former radio reporter and black activist, was convicted and sentenced to die for the Dec. 9, 1981, shooting murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner.

In an emotionally charged hearing last month, Jones, 35, testified that she initially told police she saw two men running from the crime scene a few minutes after the shooting -- something Abu-Jamal could not have done because Faulkner had seriously wounded him during the shootout.

Jones said that two officers later visited her in jail while she was being held on an armed robbery charge and offered to save her from a possible 10-year prison term if she changed her earlier statement. Because she was scared, Jones said, she testified at Abu-Jamal's trial that she saw no one leaving the scene.

Before Jones could leave the witness stand after recanting last month, she was arrested on an old bench warrant for a bad-check charge and Sabo had courtroom deputies to take her into custody. She later was released on bail, but not before authorities found another outstanding warrant for a 1982 prostitution charge.

Article #1

Witness Finally Reveals the Truth in Mumia Abu-Jamal's Case by Jane Henderson

In April 1996, Mumia Abu-Jamal's legal team found Veronica Jones, a witness at Mumia's 1982 trial. In a sworn declaration dated May 21, 1996, Jones revealed that the Philadelphia police intimidated and coerced her into lying at Mumia's trial. Specifically, Jones says she was forced to recant her initial account that, after hearing shots, she had seen two men flee the scene where police officer Daniel Faulkner was killed. Critically wounded, Mumia was unable to flee.

At least four independent eyewitnesses told the police that they saw someone flee the scene after hearing shots. But only one of these witnesses, Dessie Hightower, told this to the jury. Had Jones been allowed to tell the truth at the trial, her corroboration of Hightower's account would have soundly contradicted the prosecution's contention that only Faulkner, Mumia and Mumia's brother, Bill, were present.

Jones' statement provides strong proof that the police did indeed conspire to frame Mumia. On June 12, 1982, about two weeks before she testified at Mumia's trial, Jones was arrested on major felony charges, including robbery and assault. Unable to make bail, she was in police custody at the time she testified. While in jail, two white plainclothes detectives visited Jones. Her declaration describes the encounter:

"They told me that if I would testify against Jamal and identify Jamal as the shooter I wouldn't have to worry about my pending felony charges. . . . The detectives threatened me by reminding me that I faced a long prison sentence - fifteen years. . . . I knew that if I did anything to help the Jamal defense I would face years in prison."

When Jones took the stand days later, the same two detectives were ominously present in the courtroom. A 21-year-old mother of three young children, she denied seeing anyone flee, fearing she "would be punished for helping the defense."

Faced with Jones recanting her initial account, the defense attorney tried to probe for possible police pressure. When asked if she had talked with the police "at any other time" than when she gave her initial statement, Jones described a conversation during which the police told her that if she fingered Mumia they would let her work the streets as a prostitute just like Cynthia White - the prosecution's central witness against Mumia. But trial Judge Albert Sabo (see reverse side) cut off this testimony, striking portions of it from the record.

After Jones changed her story, some of the felony charges were dropped. She made bail and was ultimately given two years probation.

On May 22, 1996, Mumia asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to send his case back to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas - before a judge other than Albert Sabo - to allow Jones to testify. Sabo had denied Mumia's appeal for a new trial in September 1995, after refusing a defense motion for his recusal which cited his very clear history of bias in the case.

On September 4, 1996, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court remanded the case back to the trial court but failed to remove Sabo or to explicitly order the court to allow Jones' testimony. Mumia's attorneys filed an emergency motion on September 24 urging the court to reassign the case to another judge. On September 30, the Supreme Court denied Mumia's motion to replace Sabo, but itdid order Sabo to allow Jones to testify in order to create a "full factual record."

On October 1, Veronica Jones took the stand to tell her story on the record. She withstood two hours of grueling cross-examination from Assistant D.A. Arlene Fisk, who probed ruthlessly into Jones' personal history. Then, in an incredible move, the D.A. produced a 1994 New Jersey bench warrant for Jones' arrest stemming from a bad check charge. Fisk urged Sabo to turn Jones over to the Philadelphia police for extradition to New Jersey - a request to which the judge readily obliged. Attorneys for the defense stridently objected to this action, but the judge and prosecutor were determined to punish Jones for coming forward to tell the truth.

Mumia supporters quickly raised the money for Jones' bail. She was released about 6:00 a.m. the next day.

Once Judge Sabo has made his findings concerning Jones' testimony, the matter will return to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will decide whether or not to grant Mumia new trial.

#1 Article

Death Row's King: Philadelphia's Judge Albert Sabo by Jane Henderson

Philadelphia's Court of Common Pleas Judge Albert Sabo has been called "a defendant's nightmare," "a prosecutor in robes," and "his own jurisdiction" by defense attorneys and prosecutors alike. But even more damning than his reputation amidst litigators is his record: Sabo has sentenced twice as many people to death (32 total) than any other judge in the country - all but two of these defendants being people of color.

Sabo has heard fewer homicide cases than many of his colleagues but still ended up with far more death sentences.* In a city where the district attorney (D.A.) seeks the death penalty in over 85% of all homicide cases, Sabo served an important purpose: he efficiently dispensed of the grisliest and most controversial cases which would have backed up the dockets of more evenhanded judges.

This may explain how Sabo came to be assigned to the highly publicized case of African American journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Convicted in 1982 and sentenced to death for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer, Mumia's case exemplifies Sabo's style of justice.

Hostility Towards the Defense

A 1983 Philadelphia Bar survey found that over one third of the responding attorneys considered Sabo unqualified to be a judge. Revealing his anti-defense bias, Sabo responded to the survey that if he were a defense attorney, "I wouldn't vote for me either." Sabo has earned a reputation for using contempt to bully defense witnesses and attorneys. In Mumia's case, Sabo held defense attorney Anthony Jackson in contempt and tried to impose a six-month sentence because he dared to follow Mumia's instructions after the Court had stripped Mumia of his right to self-representation. Sabo's action served to erode the relationship between Mumia and Jackson. When Mumia repeatedly protested the court's insistence that an ill-prepared Jackson continue, Sabo banished Mumia from the proceeding with a crude, "Take a hike." "Your honor," Mumia replied, "you're behaving in a way to get me . .. convicted."

Favoring Prosecutors

One of Sabo's colleagues has called his courtroom "a vacation for prosecutors." A 1992 Philadelphia Inquirer review of 35 of Sabo's trials found that "through his comments, his rulings and his instructions to the jury, [Sabo] has favored prosecutors." The state's case against Mumia rested heavily on the testimony of eyewitnesses, many of whom changed their stories under police pressure. Sabo's rulings significantly aided the prosecution's case. For instance, he did not allow the defense to cross-examine prosecution witness Robert Chobert about inconsistencies in his account even though the first statement he gave to police effectively exonerated Mumia. Nor did the jury ever learn that Chobert was still on probation for a felony conviction. Meanwhile, Sabo struck from the record testimony from defense witness Veronica Jones that the police had offered favors in exchange for fabricated testimony.

No Help for the Poor

Philadelphia spends very little to ensure proper representation to poor defendants in capital cases. Los Angeles can allocate up to $60,000 per case and Columbus (OH) up to $40,000. A 1992 investigation found that Philadelphia averages about $6,500 per case.

Sabo is known for being particularly stingy. He allotted Mumia a mere $150 to investigate his case from prison, not nearly enough to follow up on over 125 witness statements.

Political Persecution

Sabo failed to instruct the jury about how character witnesses could mitigate a death sentence. But he allowed the prosecution to attack the integrity of character witness Sonia Sanchez by cross examining her about her political associations.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, the judge allowed the state to use Mumia's teenage membership in the Black Panther Party to argue for the death penalty. Adding to the lynch mob mentality, the prosecutor told the jury that the people of Philadelphia "demand" a conviction in this highly publicized case.

Sabo's association with the police alone should require him to remove himself from Mumia Abu-Jamal's case. For 16 years, he served as the Under Sheriff of Philadelphia County. He is a lifelong member of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police - a group actively lobbying for Mumia's execution.

*First elected to the Court of Common Pleas in 1974, Sabo heard only homicide cases from 1978 until he became a senior judge in 1991. Though he no longer presides over new murder trials, he still opts to hear the appeals of those he was sentenced to death, despite regular motions for his recusal.

Sample Letter:

Nancy Sobolevitch, Court Administrator
Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts
1515 Market St., #1414
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Dear Ms. Sobolevitch,

I write to share my deep concern about the continued involvement of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Albert Sabo in the post-conviction appeals of death row prisoners.

Judge Sabo has long had the reputation among members of the Philadelphia Bar as a "prosecutor in robes" and has been deemed by The Philadelphia Inquirer as "a defendant's nightmare." The judge's behavior during the highlypublicized post-conviction hearing of Mumia Abu-Jamal in 1995 was so unjudicial that the mainstream American Lawyer found that he "flaunted his bias, oozing partiality towards the prosecution."

Now a senior judge, Sabo has sentenced more than twice as many people to death than any other judge in the U.S. During his tenure as Common Pleas judge, he handled fewer homicide cases than many of his colleagues and still ended up with far more death sentences.

According to the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct, "a judge should disqualify [her/]himself in a proceeding in which [her/]his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." (Canon 3(c)(1)) Yet, Sabo has refused to relinquish appellate review of any of his death cases despite repeated motions for his recusal filed by numerous defendants raising reasonable questions about his biased behavior.

Clearly, Judge Sabo cannot be an impartial judge of his own bias. His continued involvement in capital appeals serves to undermine public confidence in the state courts' ability to guarantee fairness. And such public concern is of particular consequence right now, in light of ongoing revelations of police and prosecutorial misconduct in Philadelphia.

As Court Administrator, you are responsible for recommending senior judges to the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for placement on the bench. I urge you to stop recommending Judge Sabo and to remove his name from the Judicial Assignment Register. Twenty-one of the 32 men Sabo has sentenced to death remain on death row today. They certainly deserve to have their cases reviewed by an unbiased judge before the state moves to take their lives.


In order to get a new emergency first class mailing, complete background, and legal update, and action component send your snail mail address to ejuswest@sirius.com. Send donations to fuel the campaign to Equal Justice USA at P.O. Box 5206 Hyattsville, MD 20782.

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