JAMAL: His Own Worst Enemy

During the 1982 trial, the jury watched as Mumia Abu-Jamal, with loud outbursts and verbal threats, disrupted the trial proceedings on a daily basis.

Initially, Jamal had agreed to be represented by his hand-picked attorney Anthony Jackson. He then suddenly preempted Jackson by deciding to represent himself.

During jury selection, Jamal erratically changed direction and began demanding to have John Africa of MOVE — a non-lawyer — “represent” him.

The first day of trial (June 17, 1982) became a circus in which Jamal sought to case himself as ringmaster. He began by refusing to enter a plea. Then he refused to permit prosecutor Joe McGill to make his opening statement. Jamal then began what would become incessant demands to have John Africa “represent” him. McGill explained that Jamal could consult with Africa, or anyone he wanted: “I have no objection … if John Africa or anybody else sits in those chairs back there, providing an opportunity for Mr. Jamal at recess or in between witnesses, to go and discuss matters and that would include discussing matters before the court (N.T. 6/17/82, 1.95). But of course, the Judge was not about to allow Africa to make a farce of the trial by pretending to be Jamal’s lawyer. In an effort to quell Jamal’s bizarre antics, McGill tried reverse psychology:

“Lets see you stay here and represent yourself and don’t try to chicken out.” (N.T. 6/17/82, 1.60).

Nothing worked. By the end of the day, Judge Sabo had to remove Jamal from self-representation, returning Jackson to the role of Jamal’s full-fledged counsel. At Jamal’s insistence, Jackson filed an emergency appeal to the state Supreme Court in order to block Judge Sabo’s ruling. Instead, the Supreme Court approved the ruling the following day, and ordered the trial to proceed with Jackson as Jamal’s lawyer.

That did nothing to stop Jamal’s obstructionist tactics. Proclaiming that he was “following the directives of John Africa,” Jamal began regularly disrupting the trial. On one occasion the Judge begged Jamal to sit down no less than eight times. Ultimately the Judge was forced to repeatedly remove Jamal from the courtroom, doing so on no less than thirteen occasions. Invariably, after each removal, the Judge permitted Jamal to return to the courtroom after asking Jamal if he would behave. Each time, Jamal would promise to do so. Each time, the promise would be broken.
It takes little imagination to discern what the jury must have made of Jamal’s conduct. But that was only the part the jury could see. At the same time, Jamal was frantically undermining himself behind the scenes. He flatly refused to assist Anthony Jackson in his efforts to mount a defense. He refused to return to Jackson documents he had taken when he was representing himself. An important part of the defense strategy consisted of character witnesses, but Jamal refused to give Anthony Jackson the names of his character witnesses. Instead, Jamal contacted the witnesses himself, leaving Jackson unprepared to question them. At his sentencing hearing, against Jackson’s advice, Jamal read a lengthy statement to the jury. In a rambling diatribe he mocked the jury’s decision to convict, announcing that he was “innocent of the charges for which he had been convicted, no matter what you people think.” It was clear, however, that Jamal considered himself “innocent,” not because he had not murdered Officer Faulkner — he never bothered to deny this in any of his outbursts — but because the corrupt “system” had no right to hold him responsible:

“This decision today proves neither my guilt nor my innocence. It proves merely that the system is finished. Babylon is falling. Long live MOVE. Long live John Africa.” (N.T. 7/3/82, 16).

It was the evidence that sealed his fate, but Jamal did himself no favors with his bizarre courtroom antics. His intentionally disruptive actions and overtly political statements in the courtroom, which appeared to be intended to paint him the victim and gain sympathy from the jurors, served only to alienate them.

In his 1995 petition for release under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act, Jamal claimed that his conviction was all Anthony Jackson’s fault.

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Without the support of Justice for Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, the Faulkner family – and specifically Maureen – could not afford to keep up the vigilant fight.