By The Associated Press
A defense attorney for three members of the radical group MOVE said June 19 he’s confused why one was paroled and two others were denied parole despite having similar records and recommendations for release from the new Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
Debbie Africa, who left a state prison Saturday after serving 40 years, is the first of the so-called “MOVE 9” to be released on parole. Attorney Brad Thomson said at an event for Debbie to speak to the public with her son, Mike Africa Jr., the other two women who were denied parole should be at the table as well.
“The decisions and the reasons (the parole board) list are entirely discretionary to the point of being arbitrary,” he said after the speaking panel. “There’s nothing in the statutory provisions that requires someone to be remorseful or accept responsibility to receive parole.”
Nine of the anti-establishment, back-to-nature group’s members was convicted of third-degree murder after Officer James Ramp was killed during a 1978 standoff with police attempting to evict MOVE from its headquarters in Philadelphia. Police had said they received complaints from neighbors. The members barricaded themselves in and have said they believe Ramp was killed by friendly fire.
The women, including Debbie Africa, who was eight months pregnant, took shelter with their children in the basement during the confrontation. Debbie’s son, Mike Africa Jr., was born in prison a few weeks after she was arrested and taken away three days after he was born.
The two took turns comforting each other as they talked about the past 40 years apart and continuing to work for the release of the remaining six members of the group including Debbie’s husband, Mike Africa Sr.
Mike Africa Jr., described knocking on his mother’s door and seeing her without shoes.
“I noticed this was the first time I’d ever seen her feet,” he said. “A friend of mine said, ‘You are learning at almost 40 years old, what babies learn about their parents.'”
Ben Waxman, a spokesman for District Attorney Larry Krasner, said staff had reviewed the records of Debbie Africa, Jeanene Africa and Janet Africa and had submitted recommendations that they be paroled. The letters, which were the first positive recommendations from a prosecution attorney for the three women, said prosecutors were “confident that she will not pose a threat to the Philadelphia community to which she wishes to return” for all three women.
According to information obtained from the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, Janet and Jeanene Africa were denied parole because the board said the women lacked remorse, minimized the circumstance of their offense and received a negative recommendation in the past from a prosecuting attorney.
Tensions between MOVE and police continued after the initial standoff, culminating in the 1985 bombing of MOVE’s west Philadelphia headquarters. The bomb ignited fuel for a generator and spread to more than 60 rowhomes and killed 11 people including five children, two of whom were the children of Janet Africa and Jeanene Africa.
No one from the police department or city was criminally charged for in the investigation that followed.