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Update on Mumia Abu Jamal: the Controversy Surrounding Executing Justice
(Written March 17, 2001)

The struggle to secure justice for Mumia Abu Jamal took another bizarre twist with the news that one of his lawyers is planning to publish a book about the case.  The attorney in question, Dan Williams, has been writing Executing Justice unbeknowst to Abu Jamal or lead counsel Leonard Weinglass, who both expressed shock at the news. Williams says that they were both notified of his plans for the book, which is published by St. Martin's Press.

This announcement comes at a critical point in Mumia's legal battle, as his habeas corpus appeal, likely his last opportunity to receive a new trial, is currently under consideration by the courts.  Citing the book as a conflict of interest, Abu Jamal has filed a motion to fire his entire legal team.  Whether he will be allowed to do so is up to Judge William Yohn, who has assumed jurisdiction over his case.

You have to question Williams' judgement in writing a book when he should be working on behalf of his client. Williams claims no malice was intended in writing Justice, yet it cannot help but be used as ammunition against Mumia by his detractors.   Already, Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the policeman Abu Jamal was convicted of killing, has trashed his attempt to change counsel as "making a charade of the legal process."

While Justice reiterates Williams' belief in Mumia's innocence, the way he choses to present his information paints a negative picture of Mumia's support team.   In fact, his motivation for writing the book was his sense that the wrong people were guiding the direction of Mumia's case. In a series of recollections of meetings with Mumia's previous attorneys and support organizations, he details arguments over witnesses and the nature of his defense strategy, eventually labelling these advocates as a "fringe element" that has fatally compromised Mumia's case with their "bona fide lunacy."

That characterization is bound to upset groups like MOVE, which was organizing on Mumia's behalf well before his case became an international cause celebre.  It also has the unintended effect of lending credence to claims that Mumia's case is a historical oddity instead of an opportunity to examine a range of criminal justice issues ranging from the application of the death penalty to manipulation of a jury pool and the quality of public defense attorneys for the poor.

In the end, the controversy surrounding this book reveals an ideological battle in which the largely poor and non-mainstream segment of society that has always supported Mumia is struggling against the elite class of celebrities, attorneys and media personalities that has assumed leadership of his case.  The sad thing is that the well-being of Mumia Abu Jamal seems to be getting lost in the crossfire.  What was and continues to have the potential to be one of the most thought-provoking cases in recent memory could now be falling prey to frustrations over who is going to be able to claim Mumia's legacy as their own.  The publication of Executing Justice only raises the intensity of the debate further, despite Dan Williams' intentions.   Due to the potential damage this book threatens to do to his case from a legal and support perspective, it would be a shame if Executing Justice ended up aiding the execution of Mumia Abu Jamal. 

Copyright 2001 Anthony Lamar Rucker.  All rights reserved.

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