—Mumia Abu-Jamal’s 1982 Death Sentence Again Declared Unconstitutional—
PHILADELPHIA, PA – The jury that sentenced black activist Mumia Abu-Jamal to death for the murder of a white Philadelphia police officer was wrongly instructed, a U.S. Appeals Court said.
The court ordered the state of Pennsylvania to hold a new sentencing hearing within 180 days or to sentence Abu-Jamal to life imprisonment. The three-judge panel upheld the findings of a district court judge and an appellate decision in 2008.
Abu-Jamal, 57, has been on death row since 1982 when he was convicted of shooting Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. During his years in prison, he has written several books and has become one of the best-known death-sentenced inmates in the world.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said he is considering whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The high court has already ordered the appeals court to reconsider its earlier finding that the sentence was invalid, resulting in Tuesday’s opinion.
The court found the judge gave confusing instructions to the jury. As a result, the panel found jurors might have believed wrongly that they needed to be unanimous on mitigating factors.
Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, worked for several public and commercial radio stations in Philadelphia during the 1970s. At the time of his arrest, he was driving a cab. (Compiled from news reports)
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has unanimously declared that Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence is unconstitutional. In today’s decision, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its 2008 finding that Mr. Abu-Jamal’s sentencing jury was misled about the process for considering evidence supporting a life sentence. The court found that, in violation of the United States Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Mills v. Maryland, the jury was improperly led to believe that it could only consider unanimously agreed-upon evidence favoring a life verdict. This mistake rendered Mr. Abu-Jamal’s death sentence fundamentally unfair. The NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and Professor Judy Ritter of Widener Law School represent Mr. Abu-Jamal in this appeal of his 1982 conviction and death sentence for the murder of a police officer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“This decision marks an important step forward in the struggle to correct the mistakes of an unfortunate chapter in Pennsylvania history,” said John Payton, Director-Counsel of LDF. “Again acknowledging the existence of clear constitutional error in Mr. Abu-Jamal’s trial, the Court of Appeals’ decision enhances confidence in the criminal justice system and helps to relegate the kind of unfairness on which this death sentence rested to the distant past.”
Prof. Ritter noted that, “Pennsylvania long ago abandoned the confusing and misleading instructions and verdict slip that were relied on in Mr. Abu-Jamal’s trial in order to prevent unfair and unjust death sentences. Courts now use clear and unambiguous language to advise sentencing juries about their ability to consider evidence that favors a life verdict. Mr. Abu-Jamal is entitled to no less constitutional protection.” Mr. Abu-Jamal has been on death row in Pennsylvania for 29 years.