Even When You're as Guilty as Mumia, You Deserve an Able Defense

Commentary by Chris Satullo.

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    TK
    AP
    Debo Adegbile (center), special counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, speaks with reporters outside the Supreme Court in Washington.

    It happened again. And it's maddening.

    A nominee for a federal position was rejected because he is a lawyer and did what lawyers are supposed to do: speak up for a client and advocate for justice.

    Blasting a lawyer for having a guilty client makes as much sense as blasting doctors for hanging out with sick people, or the trashman for getting some garbage under his fingernails.

    I don't know much about Debo Adegbile; I'm not qualified to judge whether he was a good choice to run the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

    But I do know that the prime reason given by senators, Democratic and Republican, for rejecting this Obama nominee last week was unadulterated horsefeathers.

    Adegbile got tarred by the Mumia brush.

    While he was with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the fund argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that the 1982 trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal in Philadelphia was tainted by bias in the jury selection.

    Note the fund's argument was not that Mumia was innocent. Its legal brief had nothing to do with the absurd global effort to turn this cop-killer into a martyr and a hero. The fund simply made a constitutional point with repercussions far beyond the Mumia case.

    Guilt is not the point

    Now, let me clear on something. The evidence is strong, very strong, that Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered Philadelphia Police Office Daniel Faulkner in 1981. If I'd been on the Mumia jury, I'm pretty sure I would have voted guilty. And I have no patience, none, zero, with the parade of self-righteous celebrities who come into our city and twist the facts so that they can have a cause.

    I don't like the death penalty any more than Ed Asner does, but if you want to make the case against it, Mumia is far from the best example to harp on.

    Why not choose from among the 312 wrongfully convicted people who've been exonerated by DNA evidence? Why not lay out all the ways our justice system far too frequently nails the wrong guy, either through honest error or misconduct. When a system gets the result wrong as often as ours does, it's immoral to take people's lives based on what that system churns out.

    The all-too-frequent cases of police incompetence or misconduct are also why defense counsel in every case should be able and energetic, no matter how heinous the crime. That's the only way to keep the innocent from getting railroaded, to keep prosecutors, police and judges from putting a thumb on the scale.

    Imagine yourself in the dock

    Yeah, Mumia probably is guilty, but the next time, the person on trial might be you - and you wouldn't want to defend your liberty and life in a courtroom accustomed to winking at misbehaving cops and prosecutors.

    Some of the senators who voted against Abedgile surely know all this. But they ignored the point because they were afraid Mumia hate would damage them politically.

    This vote was a gut check, and senators, including Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, flunked it.