Friday, May 13, 2005

Stop her before she tries to kill again!

Could this be the end of the line for Lynne Abraham, the nation's Deadliest DA of Philadelphia? The Philadelphia Inquirer has endorsed challenger Seth Williams, a former assistant DA, while the Daily News has endorsed Abraham.

Nearly every article that the Abolitionist has read on this race includes a mention of Abraham's zealous pursuit of death. When the Inquirer endorsed Williams, it included this line:

"America's Deadliest D.A." is nationally known for her penchant for seeking the death penalty, but it's not clear whether those high-cost capital prosecutions have any deterrent effect on shootings in Philadelphia.

Even while endorsing Abraham, the DN included this note:

To arrive at that bottom line required a difficult calculation: Abraham's negatives include her bashing of judges, her penchant for over-charging and a too-frequent seeking of the death penalty.

Meanwhile, in the midst of doing some research, the Abolitionist came across an interview from 2000 with Jeff Garis, former executive director of PA Abolitionists, in the Revolutionary Worker Online. The interview included this from Garis (click here for the entire interview):

RW: Philadelphia concentrates a lot of the abuses with the death penalty--a lot of people don't get adequate legal representation, there's widespread prosecutorial misconduct, perjured police testimony, forced confessions. In the 1960s people used to talk about "Mississippi justice" and everybody knew it meant you couldn't get any justice in that state. "Philadelphia justice" is a story most people don't really know about. Could you get into this more?
JG: I think it would be hard to find a city much worse than Philadelphia in terms of its justice system for a whole host of reasons....

Then you go to the prosecutors in this city, where there is aggressive pursuit of death sentences. Why? Well, it's not simply just to get people sentenced to death. It is because if you are seeking a death sentence, you can automatically strike from juries anybody who has qualms about the death penalty. So right away you get to screen out people who might be more reasonable, people who might be more likely to question--you know, well the police said this but something doesn't sound right about it.

If you've got people who are very poor or if you get people who are not extremely rich who get charged with a crime and they face the death penalty, you end up with them having a court-appointed attorney. Their attorney's not getting adequate resources to do the kind of testing that should be done to establish whether or not the person was even there.

You've got a defense attorney who may very well say to you, "Look we can fight this if you want to, but the reality is you're African-American. They're going to stack the jury against you and this jury will probably be ready to sentence you to death. If we plead guilty to second degree murder and plea bargain--even if you're innocent--you can come away with at least keeping your life, even if it's behind bars for the rest of it."

Innocent people get sentenced to death and in order to avoid the risk of getting a death sentence innocent people plead guilty to things that they haven't done and accept life in prison or extremely lengthy prison sentences.

Until about four years ago, the way that the county of Philadelphia handled representation when a person was facing a death sentence was different than if they were facing any other charges. Normally you would have gotten somebody from the public defender's office who was trained in criminal defense, who was getting paid something, and who had some standards and accountability to the people they work for. But if you're facing a death sentence you don't get somebody from the public defender's office. You get a "court-appointed" attorney who may or may not have any experience in criminal defense, let alone capital defense. And it historically has been a system of political patronage, people who are hack lawyers who couldn't actually practice law and make a living at it on their own are connected with some figures in the city government and so they get these little jobs thrown to them. And you don't have to do a good job. You just have to show up and you get your money. After a lot of lobbying, the city finally said OK, we'll let the public defender's office take 20 percent of the representation for people who are facing death sentences. In the last four years, exactly zero people have been sentenced to death when they were represented by the public defender's office. They haven't had anybody end up on death row yet. So you've got a system like that that plays into "Philadelphia justice," as we call it.

Prosecutors have used perjured testimony. And you have prosecutors who have become quite adept at how to violate the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Batson case which said that you could not strike people from juries on the basis of their race. There's a videotape that was used in the Philadelphia district attorney's office, a training session for new prosecutors coming in where a senior ranking prosecutor in the DA's office explained how you can strike people on the basis of race--you just have to come up with some means to cover it up. Because they've been able to strike people from the jury pool you end up with juries that are much more likely to convict.

You've got a lot of really bad judges in this city, judges like the infamous Sabo. Sabo's got more people on death row than any other judge in the country by a long shot. But he's not the only one in this city. There are other judges like Latrone, who has sentenced 15 or 16 people to death. There are quite a few judges like that, and those judges run their courtrooms like their own petty fiefdoms. And when you've got a judge there who is essentially a prosecutor in robes and who controls what information the jurors are going to be allowed to hear, you end up with a system that is rife with injustice.

And then if you want to talk about appealing it, you'd better be ready to face people on the state Supreme Court bench like Ron Castille who used to be the district attorney in Philadelphia and did not feel that the fact that he had been the district attorney should have given anybody pause to consider whether or not he was really unbiased when he cast a vote with the other justices on denying Mumia's appeal to the state Supreme Court.

I think that Philadelphia justice is anything but justice and in a country where we have all kinds of injustice riddling our so-called criminal justice system, Philadelphia may very well be one of the worst.


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