The case of mumia abu-jamal has always been confusing -- and even some of those who support his right to a new trial can't get over the weirdness of the transcripts and how incriminating the ballistic evidence is.But tolerance for ambiguity isn't the strong point of Mumiaphiles at the best of times, and certainly not tonight at the Earth Sciences Auditorium at U of T, where 75 of them listen intently to Elliot Grossman, a member of Mumia's legal team.
The troops certainly need some energizing, since Abu-Jamal, convicted of shooting a police officer dead in Philadelphia in 1981, has pretty much run out of legal options. Recently, Pennsylvania federal court judge William Yohn reduced his death penalty to life imprisonment after finding there were flaws in the judge's instructions to the jury at the original sentencing hearing.
The request for a new trial, however, was rejected -- a nasty turn for Abu-Jamal since it's clear that the prosecution fudged evidence and may have concocted a confession. But a retrial wouldn't have been good enough for Abu-Jamal's current lawyers, who want him released outright. That certainly was not the position of the original legal team led by the famed Leonard Weinglass. But then, the international Abu-Jamal cause célèbre has taken on a life of its own.
Grossman, an L.A. lawyer with a shock of longish grey hair, wearing casual jeans and beige jacket, is a forceful speaker and a bit of an actor, as defence lawyers are apt to be. It's evident he's not uncomfortable cultivating hero-worship: at one point, reading the speech of his eloquent black nationalist client, he seems to blink back tears.
The "ruling class" and "media blockade," he says, are preventing the "real story" about Abu-Jamal's innocence from getting out. But Grossman is capable of a little stonewalling of his own. He glosses over the most incriminating evidence against his client -- namely, the ballistics that match Abu-Jamal's gun to the bullets in police officer Daniel Faulkner.
It's a simple relationship that leaps out at anyone who has sifted through the transcripts and appeal documents in the case. But there are other bothersome details, like why Abu-Jamal could not produce as a witness his own brother, Billy Cook, who was stopped by Faulkner at 13th and Locust before all hell broke loose.
And with what mindset are we to approach Abu-Jamal's official story that he blanked out and can't remember a thing about that fateful night?
The videotaped confession of Arnold Beverly, introduced with much fanfare and high drama here tonight by Grossman, sheds precious little light.
Beverly, wearing a black cap and oversized sunglasses, is broadcast on a huge screen in front of the hall saying he was hired by the mob and crooked cops in the Philly police department to off Faulkner. He says the mob and certain higher-ups in the department were afraid Faulkner was about to blow the whistle on payoffs cops were taking from the mob.
Ooohs and aaahs rise from some in the auditorium.
But there's no mention, of course, of the inconsistencies that have emerged in Beverly's story -- chief among them how the "police special" he said he used to pump a bullet into Faulkner's head does not discharge the type found in Faulkner.
Or the fact that Beverly came to the attention of Abu-Jamal's previous defence team back in 99 and that Abu-Jamal himself decided against using his evidence, according to his former legal strategist, Daniel Williams.
Beverly's statement is convenient, since, under U.S. rules of evidence it can't be used against him in court. Danger-free, so to speak.
It's clear that even some of Abu-Jamal's supporters in the legal community here have become more skeptical with every turn in his case.
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC), still believes in Abu-Jamal's innocence. Carter is all too familiar with the brutality of the American judicial system. He served 20 years for a triple murder he didn't commit.
But these days he's the only person with any profile lending legitimacy to the case. At least one local lawyer sympathetic to Abu-Jamal's cause admits to having had reservations about his innocence for a long time. "I thought the evidence sort of pointed to his guilt,' the lawyer tells me.
Even Abu-Jamal's more hardcore supporters here, like lawyer Jeff House, wonder whether the latest revelations in Abu-Jamal's case, courtesy of Beverly, "are more likely calculated to public relations. You have to be a little bit careful about people confessing to 20-year-old events out of the blue," he says.
Quite a leap for House who was convinced Abu-Jamal was not the shooter, but now says he is not completely convinced Abu-Jamal is innocent. "It's one of these murky situations," he says.
A situation that is about to get even murkier. Grossman says the defence team "is presently on the trail of a key witness." No particulars are offered.
But the legal team needs $30,000 to put investigators on this witness's tail. The gathered, who've already paid $5 each to get in, toss more of their money into the collection buckets being passed around.
And the beat goes email@example.com
"You have to be careful about people confessing to 20-year-old events."