(en) Philadelphia Bar Association Calls For Moratorium On Death

Ilan shalif (gshalif@netvision.net.il)
Sat, 20 Dec 1997 13:14:55 +0200

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From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk) Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC

Philadelphia Bar Association Calls For Moratorium On Death Penalty ********************************************************************* from the Militant, vol.61/no.45 December 22, 1997

BY PETE SEIDMAN PHILADELPHIA - Following a standing-room only debate, the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association here voted November 25 to call for "a moratorium on capital punishment in Pennsylvania until such time that fairness in its administration can be ensured." The Association followed in the footsteps of the American Bar Association, which called for a moratorium on the death penalty at its semiannual meeting last February. The ABA's call followed an analysis of death penalty cases during the last decade that determined most had been tried unfairly. According to a report in the November 5 Philadelphia Weekly, "The ABA drafted the resolution based on its observation that quite often the public defenders assigned to poor, frequently minority defendants are inexperienced, underpaid, overworked, largely indifferent to their client's plight and rushed into the courtroom with inadequate preparation and a limited understanding of the rights of the defendant in a capital case." According to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections of the 210 people on death row in this state, 131 - or 62 percent - are Black. Of the state's death row inmates, 115 are from Philadelphia - more people on death row than from any other U.S. county except Harris (Houston) and Los Angeles. Philadelphia has sent 14 times as many prisoners to death row - 84 percent are Black - as from Allegheny County, the state's second-most populous and where Pittsburgh is located. Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham's office has sought the death penalty in 85 percent of all eligible cases, putting it at three-and-a-half times the national average. The Philadelphia Weekly noted, "The DA's Office employs its best and brightest to prosecute cases, while the public defenders often assigned to capital cases are among the least able and most poorly paid. The well-heeled prosecution can afford to hire experts to perform medical and psychological evaluations, while the defense is lucky if it can afford a decent suit." Pierre Sane, the London-based secretary general of Amnesty International, spoke briefly at the Bar Association debate. He came to Philadelphia following meetings the day before with Mumia Abu-Jamal and another death row inmate. Abu-Jamal was framed for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. At a news conference, Sane blasted the Pennsylvania death penalty as "one of the most racist and unfair" in the United States. The same day as the Bar Association debate the State Supreme Court chose to remove Judge Albert Sabo and two other senior court judges beginning this January. Sabo, who presided over both the original trial and the post conviction appeal of Mumia Abu-Jamal has, according to the November 26 Philadelphia Inquirer, "acquired the reputation of being the king of death row. For 14 years, he presided over nothing but homicide cases, and 31 defendants left his court with death sentences. An Inquirer survey several years ago found no other judge in the country with as many defendants on death row." Sabo told reporters he was "angry about the procedure" and asked that the court reconsider. The Inquirer said the Mumia case "captured the attention of celebrities and death-penalty opponents from around the world. There were rallies in a dozen cities and countries. More than 500 people marched at City Hall for a new trial - and a new judge." Pam Africa, a leader of the Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal hailed the ouster of Sabo as "a minor victory from our pressure." Busloads of activists are expected here for the December 6 International Tribunal for Justice for Mumia Abu- Jamal, including individuals such as the mayor of Palermo, Italy, and representatives of Amnesty International.

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