Abu-Jamal's Radio Broadcasts
In this, the
Prisonhouse of Nations, there are some cases which are almost emblematic
of an era, which, because of its notoriety, or sheer impact, goes
beyond its own importance, to reflect on the institutions around
If one mentions,
say, the Simpson case, heads nod.
In rustic Oklahoma,
formerly known as 'Indian Territory', the trial of Terry Nichols,
the man charged in connection with the April 19, 1995 bombing of
the federal building in Oklahoma City, faced not one, not two, not
three, but a mind-numbing 161 death sentences following his recent
convictions of 161 counts of first degree murder. Several days ago,
the Oklahoma state jury, after some five days of deliberations,
announced they were hopelessly deadlocked, meaning, as a matter
of law, Nichols can only be sentenced to life in prison.
The funny thing
is, that's what he had all along.
convicted in December of 1995, of conspiracy in connection to the
bombing, and several counts of manslaughter stemming from the deaths
of a number of federal officials. He was serving a federal life
sentence. But prosecutors back in Oklahoma weren't satisfied. They
wanted death. So, they indicted him, empaneled a jury, and argued
for 161 death sentences.
While the jury
was quite willing to convict, they became far more reticent to sentence
him to death by lethal injection. This, after heart-rending testimony
by relatives of the slain.
long days of deliberations, according to reports, only 7 jurors
voted for death, while 5 others were holdouts, opting for life.
Under the state
and US constitutional laws, death verdicts must be unanimous to
pass muster; that they didn't do so in this case, is significant.
One can almost
hear the entreaties of the prosecutors: "Ladies and gentlemen
of the jury This case, *where 161 of your fellow Oklahomans
were blown asunder!* I mean, this is 'the perfect case'!"
Sure to tug at the hearts of parents, was the horrific loss of babies.
Yet, it didn't
I don't claim
to know why, for I've read no deep account of the juror deliberations,
but the penalty phase defense tried hard to portray Nichols as a
religious man, and perhaps that helped.
Yet, it must
be clear that some 70% of polled Oklahomans opposed the state trial
of Nichols. Some thought it was a waste of state resources, like
money. Others thought it was best to put the whole dreary subject
behind them, for Nichols was already serving life terms. Others
opposed the death penalty, which was the penultimate reason for
the state prosecution.
After all the
bills are paid, Oklahoma will have paid nearly $5 million dollars
for over 150 life sentences.
What the Oklahoma
trial reflects also, however, is the truly unrepresentative nature
of death penalty trial juries, for while some 30% of Oklahomans
wanted the state prosecution (understood to be for the purpose of
returning a death verdict), almost twice that number, 58% (7 of
12), voted for death. If anything, this shows us the flaw in the
death qualification process, that *over*-selects for death.
Still, the political
ambitions of prosecutors must be given its due.
spent vast sums, and stirred the passions of its people, for essentially
life in 1997. He has the same thing now.
The state is
out $5 million bucks.
case is a harbinger of things to come in the ever-political death
Time will tell.
2004 Mumia Abu-Jamal
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© copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.