Philadelphia DA Drops Death Penalty Against Mumia Abu-Jamal

At the news conference scheduled to discuss the fate of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams acknowledged that he and his client would not pursue the death penalty for the former Black Panther.

(Photo: Lisa Terry / Liaison Agency)

Philadelphia’s district attorney has decided to stop seeking the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, as announced at a press conference Wednesday morning.


Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, was convicted of killing white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner 30 years ago this Friday. District Attorney Seth Williams said that seeking the death penalty could draw out the case of Abu-Jamal for years, with possible appeals.


"There's never been any doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner. I believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers in 1982," said Williams, the city's first Black district attorney. "While Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing the death penalty, he will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, and that is where he belongs."


Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, was convicted and later sentenced to death for fatally shooting Faulkner on December 9, 1981. According to trial testimony, Abu-Jamal witnessed his brother in a scuffle with the young patrolman during an early morning traffic stop and ran toward the scene. When police found Abu-Jamal, he was wounded with bullets and Faulkner, who had been shot several times, was found dead.


The one-time journalist has been incarcerated in a Pennsylvania prison, but has garnered worldwide support from the “Free Mumia” movement, which asserts that Abu-Jamal was the victim of a racially-biased justice system.


His writings and radio broadcasts from death row have made him the subject of many books and movies. In 1995, he described his life in prison and dealing with the justice system he calls racist and ruled by political expediency in his book, Live from Death Row.


Over the years, through numerous appeals, Abu-Jamal’s defense has challenged the predominately white make-up of the jury in his case, instructions given to jurors, and statements of eyewitnesses.


In October, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the racially-charged case, the fate of Abu-Jamal was put into the hands of prosecutors who had the option to decide again if they wanted to pursue the death penalty or accept a life sentence.


"Another penalty proceeding would open the case to the repetition of the state appeals process and an unknowable number of years of federal review again, even if we were successful," Williams said. He also acknowledged that prosecutors decided to put the death sentence to rest because, after nearly three decades, some witnesses have died or are otherwise unreliable.


The Wednesday press conference announcing the news was also attended by Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey and the widow of the slain officer, Maureen Faulkner, who previously lashed out and called the judges who overturned Abu-Jamal’s death penalty “dishonest cowards.” She gave her blessing to today’s announcement, but said she still wanted Mumia held to account for her husband’s killing, when they were 25-year-old newlyweds.


"I will not stand by and see him coddled, as he has been in the past," Faulkner said. "And I am heartened that he will be taken from the protective cloister he has been living in all these years and begin living among his own kind — the thugs and common criminals that infest our prisons."


Abu-Jamal supporters, including activist and professor Dr. Cornel West, plan to gather at the National Constitution Center to celebrate a man they call an “innocent revolutionary and celebrated journalist” on Friday, the anniversary of Faulkner’s death and Abu-Jamal’s subsequent arrest.  


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