March 28, 2008 – A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the state must either give world-renowned death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal a new sentencing trial or sentence him to life in life in prison.
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While family members of Daniel Faulkner, the Philadelphia Police officer who was slain in 1981, are likely irate that Abu-Jamal will not be executed – so are those who believe that the three-judge panel should have given him a new trial altogether. But, as it now stands, the murder conviction remains intact.
"This was no victory, in any sense of the word," said Pam Africa, a member of the organization known as MOVE. Jeff Mackler, of Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, called the ruling a "travesty of justice.”
Abu-Jamal, a journalist and former Black Panther, was convicted in 1982 of gunning down Faulkner. In 2001, U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr., rejected all but one of Abu-Jamal's legal claims, but threw out the jury's death sentence. Yohn found that it is possible that jurors in Abu-Jamal's trial incorrectly thought that they were required to agree unanimously on any "mitigating" circumstances that might have prompted them to decide on a life sentence instead of death, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Yohn’s decision.
That state now has up to six years to hold a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal or sentence him to life.
"The jury instructions and the verdict form created a reasonable likelihood that the jury believed it was precluded from finding a mitigating circumstance that had not been unanimously agreed upon," wrote Chief Judge Anthony J. Scirica in the 77-page opinion.
But Judge Thomas L. Ambro wrote that Abu-Jamal deserved a new hearing based on his claim that the prosecution violated the law by deliberately excluding Blacks from his jury.
"To move past the prima facie case is not to throw open the jailhouse doors and overturn Abu-Jamal's conviction," wrote Ambro. "It is merely to take the next step in deciding whether race was impermissibly considered during jury selection."
While Abu-Jamal’s attorney said he’s glad the death penalty was not re-imposed, he believes the judges erred in not ordering a completely new trial. "I am not happy that two of the three judges turned a deaf ear to the racism that permeated this case," said Robert R. Bryan.
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