The media once again failed to ask probing questions, buying instead into the hands of the very same criminal justice system that sets different standards based on class, race and political power.
Only weeks ago, a coroner's jury recommended charges of criminal homicide be brought against all five police officers on the scene when Jonny Gammage died. Carnegie Mellon University's faculty newspaper "FOCUS", printed an in-depth interview with jury foreman Richard Lyons. By contrast, Lyons explains that he and other jurors were interviewed by Dateline NBC for over two hours, but when the program aired they had only one to three minutes. ("It was more of a television prop, and it was very unfair," Lyons remarked of the segment.) A white nurse who sat on the jury stated, "It's almost like they threw a rope around his (Gammage's) neck and hung him from a tree. They took his life merely because he was black." But her apt analogy was "cleaned up" by at least one Pittsburgh paper.
Says Lyons, "(Officer Vojtas) was almost flaunting his thumb. He said to 10 to 15 officers that we heard in testimony, and God knows how many that we didn't hear from - 'The son of a bitch bit me. I hope he dies." ... But he didn't make that remark once, and he didn't make it to one group of officers. Officers heard it who were on the scene at 2:00 and officers who arrived between 2:15 and 2:20 heard Vojtas make that same remark. Vojtas told one officer, "We just got another one." No intent? No malice?
Despite the recommendations of the coroners jury, D.A. Colville announced that there would be no first or second degree murder charges, and only three out of the five police would be charged at all. Then, the preliminary hearings, slipped in between Christmas and New Years while many were out of town. The testimony that convinced a coroner's jury in November slipped out of sight or was badly mutilated by December. And so, predictably, Judge James McGregor ruled that prosecutors hadn't proved the malice necessary to support third-degree murder charges. Three cops will stand trial for charges of involuntary manslaughter, the maximum sentence dropping from 40 years to five. I ask again, no malice?
I am reminded of the "confession" allegedly made by a black male charged in the shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer on the night *he* was shot and critically wounded by same. There are *no* reports of a "confession" for over two months, until after the defendant filed police brutality charges. It was then that police suddenly "remembered" that the defendant shouted out in the emergency room, "I shot the m-f and I hope he dies." The attending physician, who was with him almost the entire time, testified that he heard nothing "even remotely in the way of a confession." The accompanying police officer wrote in his report, "the male negro made no statement" but he was "on vacation" at the time of trial. The judge, refusing to allow the defense time to look for the witness, told the defendant, "You and your attorney goofed."
The defendant, Mumia Abu-Jamal, was convicted of first- degree murder and sentenced to death. To this day, he maintains his innocence. But look at the cases against many indigent defendants, and you will find fabricated confessions, coerced witness statements, sleazy deals and suppression of evidence. Every lawyer, D.A. and judge knows that.
Courts have ruled that "premeditation" can occur with the bat of an eye, which is very convenient for sending someone off to life in prison or death row. But when the defendant is a cop or a politician, the criminal justice system operates by an entirely different set of rules, making it almost impossible to establish malice, let alone intent.
Just before Judge McGregor announced his decision, a reporter from National Public Radio asked me what I thought would happen. "So you believe in conspiracy theories," she remarked skeptically when I offered an analysis of the criminal justice system in America. We're not talking theory. We're talking reality. But, NPR backed down under political *and* police pressure less than two years ago, reneging on a contract to broadcast a unique series of radio commentaries recorded *live* from death row. The words of Mumia Abu-Jamal would have shed much needed light on the disparities of the judicial system. Too bad they never got aired.