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February 13, 1981


No. 1353 October Term, 1977, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, Nos. 958, 966 November Term, 1976.

Before Price, Watkins, and Montgomery, JJ.

Per Curiam

The judgment of sentence is affirmed on the able and comprehensive opinion of Judge Paul Ribner.

Exhibit "B"




Nos. 958, 959, 960, 961, 962, 963, 964, 965, 966



Nos. 967, 968, 969, 970, 971



Nos. 972, 973, 974, 975, 976, 977


Defendants in the instant case are members of an organization known as MOVE. On November 5, 1976, other members of this organization were before the Honorable Edward Blake for sentencing in courtroom 788, City Hall. Following the imposition of jail sentences, an unruly protest erupted, instigated by members of MOVE who were spectators in the courtroom.

Outside the courtroom, in the hallway, as deputy sheriffs were escorting those sentenced defendants in their custody to the Sheriff's cell block, the eruption by these spectators intensified. The shouting and chaotic conduct so interfered with the court's business that Judge Blake ordered participating members of the MOVE organization taken into custody.

Deputy Sheriff Sanders, consistent with Judge Blake's order, took the Eddie Gilbert Africa into custody. When Sanders and his prisoner reached the end of the corridor, the latter broke loose and began running away. Deputy Sheriff Sanders gave chase, caught Eddie Gilbert Africa and attempted to regain control of his prisoner. In the process of doing his duty, Sanders was attacked by MOVE organization members Gerald Ford Africa and Conrad Africa. Gerald Ford Africa struck Sanders in the head several times with a pair of handcuffs and yelled, "Kill the M F ." Conrad Africa also struck this complainant in the head, shoulders and upper body. Robert Africa, another MOVE member, joined in the melee and struck Sanders about his body. Sheriff's Sergeant John Gleason, who rushed to the scene in the hallway where Sanders was being beaten by the three defendants, attempted to help rescue Sanders who, by this time, was in a crouched position. In the process of this rescue attempt, Gleason was struck in the head several times by Gerald Ford Africa.

Court Officers Ken Mader and Joseph Bradley heard Deputy Sheriff Sanders plead for help and they each joined in the rescue attempt. Conrad, who resisted Mader's and Bradley's efforts to handcuff him, succeeded in striking Mader in the chest. Following Judge Blake's order to arrest those who were disorderly, Deputy Sheriff David Hartley attempted to Handcuff Gerald Ford Africa, who is approximately 6'3" tal and weighs approximately 275 pounds. With one handcuff already on his wrist, Gerald Ford Africa shoved Hartley and began dragging Hartley dow the hallway like "a dog sled." After other deputy sheriffs sudbued Sanders' attacker and took the defendants to the Sheriff's cell block, Sanders returned to the Sheriff's cell block where he again saw an irat Robert Africa, who was screaming about his allegedly victimized brother and sisters. Suddenly, withoutl provocation, Robert Africa punched Sanders in the face with a closed fist.

Charged with criminal offenses arising from this altercation, the defendants all waived their right to a jury trial. Following a 2 1/2 week trial, each defendant was convicted of various assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct charges. Additionally, on February 25, 1977, following repeated and blatant examples of contumacious behavior, each defendant was held in contempt of court and sentenced summarily. Although the defendants moved for a mistrial, the trial was not terminated.

Each defendant raises the same allegations of error. Although the defendants' allegations of error fail to meet the specificity requirements of Commonwealth v. Clair, Pa., 326 A.2d 272 (1974), allowance were made for their lack of legal training and a determination on the merits was made by the court.

The first general allegation of error is that the trial court was biased and incapable of giving the defendant a fair trial. The defendants suggest, in support of this allegation, that when the trial judge issued contempt citations during the trial, he was thus rendered unfit to sit in judgment. This position is clearly without merit.

In proceeding toward an ultimate determination of an accused' guilt or innocence, it is the court's responsibility to maintain order Prior to holding the present defendants in contempt of court, they were warned, at various times, that their misconduct could result in a contempt citation and/or their removal from the courtroom. The defendant persisted and accordingly were, quite properly, held in contempt of court, Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337 (1970). It is the defendants' position that the contempt order, ipso facto, should have rendered the trialand immediate nullity. This consequence is precisely the opposite result sought to be obtained by the imposition of the contempt citations. The purpose of the contempt citations was to return order to the courtroom and permit the trial to proceed to a conclusion. As the Supreme Court pointed out in Commonwealth v. Africa, Pa., 353 A.2d 855 (1976), a mistrial precipitated by the defendants' misconduct is "a defeat for the judicial system, because its orderly process has been frustrated."

Here, this court refused to allow the contumacious behavior of the defendants to interfere with its obligation to proceed to a verdict on the merits. A review of the instant record reveals that the trial judge exhibited great patience, restraint, composure and dignity inthe face of numerous insults, threats and provocations. The weakness in defendants' argument is apparent. They attempted to bait the trial judge to the point where he was compelled to hold them in contempt to maintain order, and they argue that he thus became incompetent to judge them fairly and the trial must be aborted. If this were true, the defendants would never reach judgment because no trial involving these defendants would be completed. There is absolutely nothing in this record to demonstrate that the contempt findings in any way prevented a fair and impartial trial on the merits. On the contrary, the not-guilty findings on many charges indicate that the court ruled in favor of the defendants where any reasonable doubt existed.

The defendants next allege, generally, that their right of cros-examination was unfairly limited by the court. A review of the record which show that the present trial's great length is actually attributed to the uncommon latitude afforded defendants by the court. Every conceivable opportunity was given to the defendants to test the Commonwealth's case. Further, and similarly, the defendants allege that their oral argument was improperly limited when they were not permitted to read the guidelines espoused by their founder, John Africa. This final allegation heavily underlines and is at the heart of the defendants' misunderstanding of our judicial system. While the defendants are entitled to their beliefs and opinions, they fail to appreciate that these beliefs are not on trial. The trial court has the duty to keep the trial focused on the narrow issue of guilt or innocence. Africa, Supra, at 863. Orderly process is clearly thwarted if the trial process degenerates into a forum for espousing philosophical and religious beliefs. Proselytizing may have its place in American life but, in a courtroom, it is disruptive and the antithesis of the trial's function. The defendants' position that the trial process affords them this opportunity is misfounded. Nonetheless the court did allow the defendants frequent opportunities to orate and present their political beliefs, but only when the defendants made it quite clear that they wanted to read repetitious arguments for several hours, concerning the failure of all mankind to create a perfect world, that the court drew the line. This record is quite clear that on every occasion that the trial judge limited the political statements, he first listened to enough of the statements to be able to determine that the matters were in no way relevant to any issue in the case. There was sufficient evidence and speeches admitted into evidence for the court to understand the beliefs of the defendants as bearing on their reasons for attacking the complainants on November 5, 1976.

A fair trial, to be immortal, does not have to be eternal.

The Court exercised its discretion properly as to the length of the proceedings before bringing the proceedings to a conclusion. America Bar Association Standards Relating to Function of Trial Judge 5.5 and 5.1 see also Commonwealth ex rel Friedman v. Friedman, 297 A.2d 158, 223 Pa. Super. 66 (1972); Commonwealth v. Buccieri, 26 Atl. 228, 153 Pa. 535(189)

Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, the court denied the defendants' motion for a new trial.

June 21, 1977



Exhibit "C"




Nos. 958, 959, 960, 961, 962, 963, 964, 965, 966



Nos. 967, 968, 969, 970, 971



Nos. 972, 973, 974, 975, 976, 977


Defendants, all members of the MOVE organization, were brought to trial before this Court on various assault, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest charges arising from an altercation with members of the Sheriff's Office which took place on November 5, 1976.The defendants demanded the right to act as their own counsel. Trained legal counsel were appointed to advise them.

In the midst of trial on these charges, the defendants were held in contempt of court on February 25, 1977, and sentenced summarily. Thereafter, the trial proceeded to a conclusion on the merits. The acts of the defendants on February 25, 1977, which immediately preceded the issuance of the contempt citations were the latest in a continuing course of intolerable behavior by them during trial which clearly attempted to thwart orderly process.

A review of the voluminous instant trial record shows that, from the outset, the defendants subjected the Court to repeated insults, threats and accusations. Notwithstanding frequent attempts to propagandize and argue with the court on matters not germane to the trial issues, even reasonable effort was made by the court to avoid confrontations. For example, on February 14, 1977, when trial finally got underway, after two previous efforts to get all the defendants into court on February 7 and February 8, 1977, had failed, the defendants refused to follow the order to stand at the commencement of the court's afternoon session. The defendants made it clear that this intentional non-compliance with this routine procedure was meant to symbolize their lack of respect for court procedure:

(N.T. p. 109)

ROBERT AFRICA: Didn't we explain to you that we didn't stand up because we didn't respect your procedures?

THE COURT: Well, in this courtroom, as I say, I will go along with any reasonable request. However, I don't see any reason why parties cannot - why people in this courtroom cannot rise when everyone else is asked to do and everyone else does so...

ROBERT AFRICA: You say you are not familiar with the fact that we do not rise, by our religion. Anybody in City Hall, or anybody within political circles, legal circles, is aware of the fact that we do not under any circumstances stand up in the courtroom when the judge enters.

As it later became apparent in most matters of non-compliance with court orders, the defendants explained that their position on not standing was based upon deep religious conviction:

(N.T. p. 119)

ROBERT AFRICA: What makes that situation different from this, a situation where this is something that you are asking us to do which conflicts with our religion?

THE COURT: Very bluntly, I don't know of any teaching of any religion in the world that says that you should not stand up in a courtroom, you should not exhibit courtesy and respect for --

ROBERT AFRICA: The teaching of John Africa is unlike the teaching of any other religion in the world. And if you are not aware of that at this point, you should be at the end of this trial.

At this point, the Court was faced with a difficult decision. The long-standing requirement that those present in the courtroom rise when the judge enters at the opening of the proceedings is a time honored tradition in our courts. However, adherence to that tradition was not a prerequisite to a fair trial on the merits. Accordingly, the Court, balancing the interests of court decorum and the need to provide the defendants with a forum for trial on the merits, absolved the defendants from their failure to rise. However, during the exchange between the defendants and the court over the defendants' unwillingness to stand, the defendants prophetically set the tone for the entire trial:

(N.T. p. 133)

CONRAD AFRICA: When you tell us something that's right, we'll adhere to it. We don't have to do what's not right.

THE COURT: I said in the beginning you have to follow our procedures, the regulations we have in this courtroom...

The defendants eschewed compliance with not only mandated court procedure but common courtesy as well. The defendants demonstrated from the first day of trial that interrupting the judge would be commonplace The present record is replete with such interruptions. The following few randomly selected excerpts point this out:

(N.T. p. 134)

... THE COURT: I don't think they're afraid of anything. Now, we're going to go ahead with the trial. I am asking you -

CONRAD AFRICA: You understand what I'm saying...

(N.T. p. 157)

THE COURT: All right. I have allowed you to express your thoughts all over the record, but I think we'd--

ROBERT AFRICA: And if you didn't stand up for him, he couldn't hold you in contempt or lock you up or put you in handcuffs...

(N.T. p. 160)

ROBERT AFRICA: When I walk into the courtroom, you don't believe in standing up for me, do you?

THE COURT: Look, it's not --

ROBERT AFRICA: And I didn't question that when I came into the courtroom.

(N.T. p. 1732)

ROBERT AFRICA: You don't know why we brought the statement to court.

THE COURT: Please let me finish.

ROBERT AFRICA: You are putting things in a record that you can't make assumptions about.

THE COURT: Please let me finish...

(N.T. p. 1735)

... ROBERT AFRICA: And you are in contempt of life...

THE COURT: Will you just shut your mouth for one moment and let me say something?

(N.T. p. 1737)

ROBERT AFRICA: ... Then deal with it. You're so smart, your judge, "Your Honor." Well, deal with it. You hear what we're saying, and you hear that it's right, but all you do is sit there and threaten us, and have these people sitting here... not because they see you as honorable, but just because they feel threatened.

THE COURT: I am constantly trying to speak, and I cannot get even one sentence out.

Although the defendants were advised that the function of trial is to address the narrow relevant issues of law and fact that bear on the question of guilt or innocence, the defendants were more interested in utilizing the courtroom as a forum for launching long and repetitious philosophical dissertations:

(N.T. pp. 885-886)

CONRAD AFRICA: Everybody has the right to live.

THE COURT: That's right.

CONRAD AFRICA: Now, I'm saying, you know, it's not us that is infringing on life, killing life, murdering life, butchering life, it is you. It is your belief that is doing that.

THE COURT: You mean me individually?

CONRAD AFRICA: You. Your belief, your teaching. Because your teaching is not as ours...

While the instant record was saturated with the tedium of these lectures, the court did not belittle the defendants' beliefs. This urge to lecture was never completely satiated:

(N.T. p. 887)

THE COURT: You know, this is all very interesting. But it's now five of three, and we don't want to keep this up all afternoon. I enjoy talking to you about your beliefs, because it's interesting. But we really have to get along with the trial. Do you have any more questions of this witness? Do you have any questions that haven't been asked?

CONRAD AFRICA: The point that I was making is that he and other sheriffs do use the term Mother Fucker...

The Court's efforts to advance the trial proceedings from the quagmire of religious and philosophical discussions were constantly resisted:

(N.T. pp. 1010-1011)

ROBERT AFRICA: If you can't deal with our beliefs, if you find that our beliefs are not --

THE COURT: I don't want to hear any more.

ROBERT AFRICA: Wait a minute. Let me --

THE COURT: Because I'll start telling you my beliefs in a few minutes.

ROBERT AFRICA: But your teaching is of this lifestyle. You don't know how to deal with our teaching, because you have not been trained to deal with it, you have never seen anything like this before.

THE COURT: I have seen a lot more about the world than you have. And I know a lot more people than you do.

GERALD AFRICA: You don't know. You are just speaking out of sheer ignorance.

Throughout the trial, the court attempted to instruct the defendants on the proper method of introducing admissible evidence and the importance of eliciting answers from witnesses rather than making speeches. However, the defendants were determined to do things their way:

(N.T. p. 1006)

THE COURT: I'm not going to let you continue, because you apparently won't ask the questions. I'm not interested in hearing speeches.

GERALD AFRICA: I'm going to conduct my defense the way I see fit...

(N.T. p. 1029)

THE COURT: You may have all the answers in the world. But to get answers on the record you have to elicit them from the witnesses. The answers must come from the mouths of the witnesses. Now, if you are smart enough in your cross-examination, you can develop the facts and statements that you want to get on the record.

CONRAD AFRICA: I'm stating that the facts will be developed by the consistency of our statements.

THE COURT: I gather you are saying, then, that you have no more questions to ask? I just heard you say you have no questions, only answers.

CONRAD AFRICA: That's right.

THE COURT: Do you have questions to ask, or not?

CONRAD AFRICA: What I'm saying --

THE COURT: Do you any questions of this witness?

CONRAD AFRICA: You understand what I'm saying.

THE COURT: No, I don't.

CONRAD AFRICA: Yes, you do.

This latter accusation that the trial judge was lying is not an isolated negative comment in the midst of otherwise general harmony and mutual respect, but the very thrust of the defendants vocalized perception of the court throughout the trial. Reasoning with the defendants in an attempt to allay their mistrust invariably accelerated the accusations:

(N.T. p. 1047)

... THE COURT: That's not so. In cases where police abuse is alleged, action is brought by defendants, it's the police who are charged with abuse. There are any number of cases where defendants file charges against police officers. So when you say it's always the reverse, that's not so.

CONRAD AFRICA: Exactly. But their charges don't stand up. The police charges stand up. The officers' charges stand up. That happens all the time.

THE COURT: But I'm saying to you that --

CONRAD AFRICA: How long have you been in the law, the so called law? ...

At the heart of their brazen mistreatment of the trial judge is a fundamental belief that the criminal justice system which they condemn will actually afford them perpetual insulation and shield them from effective punitive action. There is nothing veiled or subtle about their conviction that the Supreme Court will always vindicate them:

(N.T. p. 1730)

CONRAD AFRICA: I'm not waiving anything. What you do legally, you know, you have to answer for. And you know that another court and another judge will overrule you on that. It's just that simple.

A ruling against the defendants was usually viewed by them as an open invitation to confront and accuse the court of outrageous misconduct:

(N.T. p. 1667)

ROBERT AFRICA: What I'm saying is that you're going along with the objection, which is the same thing.

THE COURT: So if I sustain an objection, that means --

ROBERT AFRICA: It means that you are in concert with him.

It was this kind of persistent and systematic baiting of the court that immediately preceded and precicitated the contempt findings. Clearly, the defendants were warned in advance that the court would not tolerate further baseless accusations designed only to disrupt the proceedings:

(N.T. p. 1718)

CONRAD AFRICA: I'm going to, if you will allow me. You keep saying, "For the record, I want to make it clear that the defendant just interrupted me again." You are constantly interrupting me. Is that on the record? Are you making sure that that's put on the record? You're doing that for your own purpose.

THE COURT: I will not tolerate any more accusations against the court. Ask your next question, without any further discussion. Ask your next question.

At last, the cumulative effect of these unprecedented demonstrations of contumacious behavior led the court to the ultimate issuance of contempt citations:

(N.T. p. 1722)

THE COURT: You don't have to ask the District Attorney, in a snide manner, whether or not he objects. If he has an objection, he's big enough to make his own objection.

CONRAD AFRICA: But a lot of times, you know, you called for an objection from him.

THE COURT: Are you accusing me of taking part in the prosecution's case? I find you in contempt of court. I am sentencing you, Mr. Conrad Africa --

ROBERT AFRICA: Why don't you deal with what he said.

THE COURT: I told him I will not tolerate any more accusations. I'm holding you in contempt of court...

(N.T. p. 1723)

THE COURT: I gather there are no further questions of this witness.

GERALD AFRICA: Why don't you speak to the issue. You're so smart, why don't you use your intellect? Why do you want to fall back on a contempt charge? Why don't you have all of us removed from the courtroom, lock us up. Why waste all this damn time? That's what you want to do, you want to lock us all up. Well, go ahead and do it. Don't sit up there like you're an honest judge, fair. You say you're a hard judge. That don't have nothing to do with the case, whether it's MOVE or someone else. That has nothing to do with justice. And this is what we have been telling you all along.

THE COURT: You have been screaming at the top of your lungs at me. And I --

GERALD AFRICA: I'm asking you to speak to it.

THE COURT: I don't have to take that from you or anybody else.

GERALD AFRICA. Just speak to the issue.

THE COURT: I don't have to listen to all your shouting, all of your accusations. I'm not going to lean over so far backwards to protect your rights that I have to take all the shouting and screaming and accusations from you. Everybody in this courtroom understands what has happened here. The record reflects your conduct.

GERALD AFRICA: I'm asking you to speak to it.

THE COURT: And I'm telling you that you are just shouting. Do you deny you are shouting at me?

GERALD AFRICA: I'm shouting because I'm outraged. Like you said the other day I was snickering. I snicker at lies. When I hear a lie, understand me, I snicker...

THE COURT: You are shouting at me again...

Lest there be any confusion about the tone of this latest diatribe, the court asked the court officers who were present to stat their impressions:

(N.T. pp. 1725-1726)

THE COURT: Mr. Cole, would you state for the record what your impression has been?

COURT CRIER: I would say he's speaking in loud tones, yes, your Honor.

THE COURT: All right, let me ask the other court officers.

COURT OFFICER DAVID KITEI: My name is David Kitei, court officer. I never heard such shouting before in any courtroom.

It is important to note that the contempt finding was announced by the court after ten days and 1722 pages of constant, wilful, and totally uncalled for contemptuous acts and language by the defendants. This was not a sudden and isolated act of contempt before a judge who over-reacted to a fancied slight, but a constant barrage of vituperative abuse, charges of unethical conduct, and so on, before a judge who maintained respect for the defendants, dignity, and judicial demeanor far and above that which any mortal should be expected to demonstrate.It is noteworthy that the trial was brought to a conclusion, a verdict announced, and sentence imposed. Prompted by the defendant, Gerald Africa, the abuse heaped upon the court throughout the trial continued even after sentencing:

(N.T. pp. 50-51, 3-24-77)

GERALD AFTICA: -- you're going to be held directly responsible for anything that happens to us.

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Finished, Your Honor?

UNIDENTIFIED SPECTATOR: You claim that you're acting in accordance with your laws. But we're going to show you just how your laws work. We're going to show you that you're no more than an imp, that you do not believe in law, you believe in manipulation.


SEVERAL UNIDENTIFIED SPECTATORS: Long Live John Africa. Long Live John Africa. Long Live John Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED SPECTATOR: Stop the power of this sick and insane mother fucker.

Judicial bastard. What the fuck do you know about law? You bastard. You're playing with people's lives. You make your God-damn salary over playing with people's live.

You prostitute. You pimp. You sick ass mother fucker.

When the revolution comes, you're going to go, too, mother fucker, right in one of them stinking, nasty jails. But you ain't going to get no God-damn food, you ain't going to get no God-damn water. Because you don't appreciate law. All you know is without law.

Misfit. Retard. Bastard. You don't know what law is. You scorned the law every fucking time.

The defendants, at every opportunity, attempted to impede orderly process. He court's authority was systematically and persistent challenged. To ignore the defendants' contumacious conduct in view of the instant record would, in essence, invite a complete erosion of the court' dignity and authority. Throughout the instant proceedings, prior to the contempt findings of February 25, 1977, the court tried to overlook obvious efforts by the defendant to obstruct orderly process. Finally, the defendants, by the sheer overwhelming accumulation of their contumacious behavior, moved beyond the point of no return. In Craig v. Harney, 331 U.S. 367, 67 S. Ct. 1249, 91 L.Ed. 1546 (1947), Justice Douglas stated:

"The law of contempt is not made for the protection of judges who may be sensitive... Judges are supposed to be men of fortitude, able to thrive in a hardy climate. Conceivably, a campaign could be so managed and so aimed at the sensibilities of a particular judge and the matter pending before him as to cross the forbidden line."

In the present case, it cannot be seriously argued that the defendants did not cross that forbidden line.

Trial courts are vested with grave responsibilities and, by necessity must be vested with sufficient authority necessary to carry out these responsibilities. In recognition of this the United States Supreme Court has stated:

"It is essential to the proper administration of criminal justice that dignity, order, and decorum be the hallmarks of all court proceedings in our country. The flagrant disregard in the courtroom of elementary standards of proper conduct should not and cannot be tolerated. We believe trial judges confronted with disruptive, contumacious, stubbornly defiant defendants must be given sufficient discretion to meet the circumstances of each case." Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 90 S. Ct. 1057, 25 L.Ed.2d 353 (1970).

There can be no doubt about the trial judge's right and duty to punish deviations from proper conduct such as existed in the present case. See Commonwealth v. Patterson, 452 Pa. 457, 308 A.2d 90 (1973).

The circumstances of the instant case clearly called for the issuance of contempt citations. A reading of the present record in its entirety compels a conclusion that any other result would seriously undermine and critically impair trial judges throughout this Commonwealth in their daily administration of justice.

The trial record in this case is a classic record of a fair trial, despite a calculated attempt to cause a termination of the proceedings and error in the record by the defendants. In the presence of the public, court officers, lawyers and defendants, the trial court succeeded in granting a fair trial, and maintaining respect for the judiciary. If the contempt orders in this case were not proper, it is difficult to perceive of any case where a contempt citation would be deemed lawful.

July 21, 1977




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