Selection of a jury began in June of 1982 with Jamal still representing himself. Over the course of two days he personally questioned 20 prospective jurors. By the end of the second day of jury questioning, 1/3 of the available jury pool had been questioned and only 1 of the required 12 jurors and alternates had been selected. Many that attended the 1982 trial felt that Jamal’s appearance (he sported a then-unusual “dreadlock” hair style favored by MOVE members), his demeanor, and his aggressive style of questioning, were perceived as threatening by the prospective jurors. Noticing this, prosecutor Joe McGill asked potential juror Ruth Swenk if Jamal’s conduct made her uneasy. She replied, “he scares me to death” (N.T. 6/2/82, 2.138). Other prospective jurors echoed similar concerns.

McGill suggested to Judge Sabo that he, the Judge, take over the jury questioning for both the prosecution and the defense. As later admitted by Jamal’s attorneys, this was well within the legal guidelines of Pennsylvania law, which grant the trial judge discretion to do so at any time. Judge Sabo acknowledged that the jury selection process was taking far too long. He also noted that many of the jurors appeared to be adversely affected when questioned by Jamal — an accused murderer — and was concerned that, if Jamal continued to question prospective jurors, the entire pool might be used up without seating a complete jury.

Jamal became agitated by these comments and began to shout at the Judge. He stormed over to the defense table and ordered Anthony Jackson, who was functioning as “back up” counsel, “not to participate in the proceedings at all.” It was at this point that Mumia Abu-Jamal first demanded to have John Africa, the founder of MOVE and a non-lawyer, “represent” him. Jamal stated:

“I don’t want him [Anthony Jackson] to conduct the voir dire (jury selection) for me and I don’t want you [Judges Sabo] to do it for me. I want John Africa.”

N.T. 6/9/82, 3.33

Judge Sabo offered Jamal the opportunity to review the questions proposed by the prosecution for the Judge to ask the potential jurors. Jamal petulantly refused to look at them. He also refused to offer any questions of his own, and instructed Jackson not to look at the questions proposed by the prosecution. He announced that he considered the proceedings “a damned farce.” The Judge began questioning the prospective jurors for both sides.

Following the lunch recess, Jackson announced that Jamal had reconsidered, and would agree to personally draft the questions to be asked of each prospective juror if Jackson could ask the questions instead of the Judge doing so. The Judge asked Jamal if his lawyer had correctly stated his wishes. Though Jamal petulantly refused to speak, the Judge decided to take his silence as assent and agreed to the proposal. Thereafter, Jackson asked the questions for Jamal. Having done so, Jackson consulted with Jamal and either Jackson or Jamal would inform the court if a potential juror was accepted or rejected. Through this process, Jamal personally selected his own jury.

The initial racial makeup of the jury was 3 blacks and 9 non-blacks. While the prosecutor accepted four blacks to the jury, Jamal has admitted that he used at least one of his own peremptory challenges to remove a black potential juror (James Burgess) who had been accepted by the prosecution. Another black juror was later dismissed when she violated the court’s sequestration order. Therefore, the final racial makeup of the jury that convicted Jamal and sentenced him to death was 2 blacks and 10 non-blacks. It should be noted that a unanimous verdict is required to secure a conviction and a death sentence.