Pliant courts and a powerful leftist movement delayed justice long enough to get a convicted cop-murderer a death-penalty reprieve more than a decade after his lengthy appeals process had already been exhausted.
The outrageous case involves a member of the radical Black Panthers, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who murdered a police officer (Daniel Faulkner) in Philadelphia three decades ago. Abu-Jamal, who claims to be the victim of a racist legal system, was sentenced to death by the jury that convicted him in 1982. After losing multiple appeals and being rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court twice, Abu-Jamal finally got his official reprieve this week.
Prosecutors in Philadelphia officially abandoned their decades-long pursuit of execution for the cop-killer, leaving him to rot in jail for the rest of his life. In 2001, two years after Abu-Jamal had exhausted a lengthy appeals process, a Philadelphia federal judge (William Yohn) threw out the death sentence citing problems with the jury instructions and verdict form in the trial.
Judge Yohn, appointed by the first President Bush in 1991, said jurors should have been able to consider mitigating circumstances during sentencing even if they did not unanimously agree that those circumstances even existed. Then he ordered prosecutors to, either conduct a new sentencing hearing, or instead sentence Abu-Jamal to life imprisonment since the conviction itself was never questioned.
Decades have passed, many of the witnesses are either dead or unreachable so Philadelphia’s District Attorney decided not to proceed with a new sentencing hearing. “There has never been a doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner, and I believe the appropriate sentence was handed down in 1982,” said Philly D.A. Seth Williams, who happens to be black.
He points out that every reviewing court has ruled that Abu-Jamal’s trial was fair and the verdict of guilt sound. The evidence was overwhelming and the mixed-race jury didn’t take long to reach a verdict for the 1981 murder. Three credible eyewitnesses testified that Abu Jamal was the killer. The bullet in the officer’s brain came from Abu Jamal’s gun, which had five empty cartridges when investigators found it. Court documents, testimony and other relevant facts about the case are available on a website created in the officer’s memory.
From prison Abu-Jamal has been a hero to a powerful leftwing movement—including journalists— that has fought for his release. His backers include famous Hollywood celebrities and well-known activists and civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Amnesty International. President Obama’s ousted “Green Czar” (Van Jones) is also among the vocal Abu-Jamal supporters.
Reacting to this week’s reprieve, a San Francisco-based group (appropriately called Prison Radio) that claims Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner insists he be freed, asserting that he’s innocent. To make its case the group includes a statement from the great South African activist (Desmond Tutu) who earned international accolades for opposing apartheid. Because life in prison is yet another form of death sentence, Tutu says, justice will not be served. “Based on even a minimal following of international human rights standards, Mumia must now be released,” Tutu said.