Pennsylvania Record

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Pa. legislator introduces resolution opposing Obama’s pick to lead Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division

By Jon Campisi | Jan 24, 2014

Debo adegbile

In the eyes of one Pennsylvania lawmaker, President Obama’s nomination

of Debo Adegbile to head a high-up federal post is a slap in the face.

State Rep. Eli Evankovich, a Republican representing parts of Westmoreland and Armstrong Counties in western Pennsylvania, unveiled in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives this week a resolution calling on U.S. senators to oppose Adegbile’s nomination as the next assistant attorney general for the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice.

The reason – Adegbile previously served as president of the NAACP’s legal defense fund at a time when the civil rights organization volunteered to represent, and “work tirelessly to free,” Mumia Abu-Jamal, the activist and former radio personality who was convicted of gunning down Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in the early 1980s.

Abu-Jamal, who was subsequently sentenced to death for the murder, was never executed for the crime due to a series of legal hurdles.

Evankovich noted that his resolution is in line with the view of the National Fraternal Order of Police, which has expressed a strong opposition to Adegbile’s appointment, a nomination the group considers to be disrespectful to Faulkner’s survivors.

In a letter to Obama, parts of which were reprinted in Philadelphia Magazine, FOP National President Chuck Canterbury said, “As word of this nomination spreads through the law enforcement community, reactions range from anger to incredulity.

“Under this nominee’s leadership,” Canterbury’s letter continued, “the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People volunteered their services to represent Wesley Cook, better known to the world as Mumia Abu-Jamal – our country’s most notorious cop-killer.”

In his co-sponsorship memorandum, which was circulated to members of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, Evankovich, the sponsor of the resolution, said the killing of Faulkner “is still a very sensitive issue for law enforcement and all Pennsylvanians, particularly because of the national attention that continues to be given in support of a known cop killer.

“Mr. Adegbile’s role in the defense of Abu-Jamal directly calls into question his ability to defend the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

Evankovich’s resolution, which was introduced last week, was referred on Wednesday to the House Judiciary Committee, legislative records show.

In the FOP letter, Canterbury, referring to Abu-Jamal, said there is no disputing that Faulkner “was murdered by this thug.”

Canterbury went on to say in his letter to Obama that Abu-Jamal’s death sentence “was undone by your nominee and others like him who turned the justice system on its head with unfounded and unproven allegations of racism.”

Others, however, have lined up behind the nominee.

In an online statement, the Alliance for Justice called Adegbile a “tireless advocate, a skilled litigator, and a well-respected member of the legal community who is extraordinarily qualified for and suited to this position.

“Mr. Adegbile is one of the preeminent civil rights litigators of his generation,” the AFJ continued. “The son of immigrants who worked his way from poverty to the top of the legal profession, Mr. Adegbile is a steadfast voice for equality and opportunity for all Americans. He has argued before the Supreme Court twice, and has served for a decade in various leadership positions at the nation’s first civil rights firm, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.”

The AFJ went on to state that the prospect of a champion of civil rights leading the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department “has upset the far right, and they’ll do everything they can to stop Mr. Adegbile from being confirmed.”

This past summer, the Pennsylvania Record reported that Pennsylvania’s Superior Court affirmed Abu-Jamal’s life imprisonment sentence, which had been ordered by a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge in August 2012.

Abu-Jamal’s case, which has been winding its way through Pennsylvania’s trial and appellate courts for decades, has gained attention the world over, by those who believe he was wrongly convicted and those, many of them police officers, who have stood by the death sentence.

In June 1995, then-Gov. Tom Ridge signed an execution warrant for Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing Faulkner during a public confrontation on a Philadelphia street in December 1981.

In late 1999, Ridge signed a second death warrant, after which Abu-Jamal’s attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus at federal court in Philadelphia.

In 2001, the record shows, U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn denied all of Abu-Jamal’s appeals claims except the one pertaining to his sentencing hearing, with Yohn ruling that jury instructions during the death penalty phase of the trial were ambiguous.

The United States Supreme Court declined to get involved in the case in the fall of 2011, leaving Yohn’s ruling intact.

State prosecutors then dropped their bid to have the death sentence carried out.

The Philadelphia trial judge subsequently imposed a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Abu-Jamal then filed an appeal of the Philadelphia judge’s decision, arguing that the life sentence was unconstitutional; he also challenged the process of ordering condemned inmates into solitary confinement.

In upholding his sentence, the Pennsylvania Superior Court in July determined that the trial judge didn’t sentence Abu-Jamal “sua sponte,” but rather handed down the sentence in accordance with a federal court directive.

Meanwhile, Maureen Faulkner, Officer Faulkner’s widow, has since her husband’s death been a tireless advocate of law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty.

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