|(Image by jcrakow)|
Mumia Abu-Jamal won a new lease on life Tuesday when the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously decided that his death sentence was unconstitutional, Democracy Now reported this morning. This was the second time the court has agreed with the lower court judge who set aside Abu-Jamal’s death sentence because of biased judicial instructions that encouraged jurors to choose death rather than a life sentence. As a result of the Court’s decision, Abu-Jamal could get a new sentencing hearing. This could result in a life sentence. So far, though, he is still being held on death row.
While this is great news in an otherwise frustrating and depressing case, Abu-Jamal should be immediately released, as his initial conviction was based on trumped up charges by the police and a lynch mob climate created by a racist judge. Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1982 of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The original judge, Judge Sabo, had publicly declared that he was pro-prosecution, which draws into question the fairness of the trial. He also refused to allow Abu-Jamal to represent himself and prevented his counsel from presenting much of its evidence and excluded blacks from the jury. Furthermore, a stenographer had heard Sabo say, “I’m going to fry the n---r.” It later came out that witnesses had been intimidated into testifying against Abu-Jamal and, in 2001, Arnold Beverley confessed that he was the one who shot Faulkner.
In the Democracy Now report, Mumia’s attorney, Judith Ritter, said that the National Academy of Sciences has discredited much of the forensic evidence that courts have been using for years, including ballistics testimony used to convict Abu-Jamal for the murder of. Based on this, Ritter has called for a new trial. However, Abu-Jamal has been on death row for nearly 30 years, despite considerable evidence that he is innocent and despite the evidence that the judge was biased and the jury had been tampered with. The courts have continually had no problem with these “anomalies” or that someone else has admitted committing the crime. Indeed, one judge said that Abu-Jamal was convicted by a jury, so Judge Sabo’s racism was not relevant.
Abu-Jamal’s conviction was politically motivated and the unwillingness of the courts to reverse the biased conviction is probably due to the fact that he is a former Black Panther and a journalist who sympathetically covered such unpopular movements as the MOVE organization in Philadelphia. The current legal challenge, if effective, will reduce his sentence from death to life in prison. However, if successful, Ritter could get him a new trial in which the evidence absolving him of the crime can finally be heard.