By Rob Kaminiski
October 25, 2011
The Supreme Court has upheld a lower-court ruling throwing out the death sentence of former Black Panther and acclaimed author Mumia Abu-Jamal. The high court left in place lower-court rulings that would allow a new jury to determine if Mumia will face execution or serve life in prison.
It is widely recognized that Mumia was framed for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Faulkner was shot during a traffic stop of Mumia’s younger brother. Mumia was arrested at the scene and convicted of first-degree murder a year later.
Mumia has exhausted his appeals on that conviction, despite strong evidence of his innocence and grievous misconduct by the judge and prosecutor during the trial.
Mumia’s death sentence was thrown out by federal district judge William Yohn in 2001 because the trial jury was given improper instructions in the sentencing phase. Jurors had been told they must have unanimous agreement in considering any mitigating circumstances to recommend a life sentence, rather than the death penalty. In fact, only a majority of jurors need agree on possible mitigating circumstances.
Judge Yohn ordered a new sentencing trial, but the notorious Philadelphia chain of prosecutors and politicians challenged his decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The prosecutors lost and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s latest backing of the Third Circuit means that, for the prosecutors to try to reimpose the death penalty against Mumia, they would have to order a new sentencing trial. That, however, poses a risk to the prosecutors, as a sentencing trial would give Mumia an important opportunity to expose the illegal conduct of the state in the original trial.
People around the world and in the United States are demanding immediate freedom for Mumia, a heroic leader of progressive struggles, whose voice has never been silenced despite severe prison repression. Stopping the death penalty is critical on the long road to justice.