Abu-Jamal Lawyer Says New Evidence Shows Death Row Inmate Was Framed
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Mumia Abu-Jamal, the black activist whose attempt to overturn his death-row sentence has gained international support, was framed by a prostitute under pressure from the police, his lawyers argued Wednesday.
The former prostitute changed her story and helped convict Abu-Jamal of murdering a Philadelphia police officer after detectives threatened her with a lengthy prison sentence on unrelated charges, the lawyers said in their motion, filed in Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The motion seeks a new trial for Abu-Jamal, 42, a former radio reporter whose efforts to get off death row have attracted international and celebrity support.
The lawyers said they only recently found the woman, Vernoica Jones, they say helped frame Abu-Jamal.
``What all this adds up to is that Mumia’s conviction was obtained through coerced, intimidated and false testimony,″ New York defense attorney Leonard Weinglass said at a news conference outside Mayor Edward G. Rendell’s office.
Jones initially told police she had seen two men running from the downtown Philadelphia shooting scene, at which Officer Daniel Faulkner lay dying and Abu-Jamal lay nearby with a gunshot wound in the chest on Dec. 9, 1981, according to Weinglass. She never claimed to have seen the shooting.
Shortly before testifying at the 1982 trial, Jones _ then a 21-year-old prostitute with three children _ was arrested for armed robbery and faced a possible 15-year sentence. But detectives visited her in jail and told her the charges would ``go away″ if she changed the story and testified against Abu-Jamal, Weinglass said. Ultimately, he said, she was sentenced to probation on the felony charges.
Jones, who was difficult to find because she had changed her name and Social Security number, has felt ``troubled and bothered by what she was forced to do,″ Weinglass said. The lawyers would not disclose her whereabouts.
William Davol, a spokesman for District Attorney Lynne Abraham, said officials would have no comment until they see the motion. Prosecutors have until Thursday to file their response to Abu-Jamal’s pending appeal before the state Supreme Court.
Supporters say Abu-Jamal was framed because of his past affiliation with the Black Panther Party and his broadcast criticism of police.
Hollywood celebrities and overseas political leaders, including South African President Nelson Mandela, have expressed support for Abu-Jamal.