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Mumia Abu-Jamal Faces US Supreme Court

Hans Bennett | 4/12/2011, 4:35 p.m.

Braulio Alvarez, a member of the Venezuelan parliament and leader of the farmers struggle in Venezuela said in his message written for the week, that Venezuelan supporters had decided "to go the American embassy in Caracas to hand to the ambassador a letter to the governor of Pennsylvania, demanding that he immediately liberate Mumia Abu-Jamal."

Berlin, Germany's, week of solidarity culminated in a demonstration where hundreds marched to the US Embassy with slogans like "Freiheit fur Mumia Abu-Jamal - Weg mit der Todesstrafe uberall" ("Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal - Abolish the death penalty everywhere").

Also demonstrating the international interest in this case, the new British documentary film about Abu-Jamal, titled In Prison My Whole Life, premiered December 8 on the Sundance Channel. Previous interviews with William Francome, and Livia Giuggioli Firth, revealed that In Prison features an interview with Abu-Jamal's brother Billy Cook, and the newly discovered crime scene photos. Officially endorsed by Amnesty International, Amnesty UK Director Kate Allen said: "We hope that the film's viewers will back our call for a fair retrial for Mumia Abu-Jamal-and also support our work opposing the death penalty in the US and around the world."

Appealing to the US Supreme Court

[ go to original for Illustration / (Illustration by Rainer Hachfeld, Neues Deutschland, Germany) ]

Both the DA and Abu-Jamal are asking the US Supreme Court to consider their appeals of the March 27, 2008 rulings by the US Third Circuit Court, when the court denied Abu-Jamal a new guilt-phase trial but ruled that there must be a new sentencing- phase trial if the DA still wants the death penalty. Therefore, Abu-Jamal is appealing for a new guilt-phase trial, while the DA is appealing to execute him without a new sentencing-phase trial. On October 6, 2008, the US Supreme Court rejected an unrelated appeal from Abu-Jamal.

On March 27, 2008 the US Third Circuit Court's three-judge panel of Thomas Ambro, Anthony Scirica, and Robert Cowen ruled against three different appeal issues, refusing to grant either a new guilt-phase trial or a preliminary hearing that could have led to a new guilt-phase trial for Abu-Jamal. However, on the issue of racist jury selection, also known as the Batson claim, the three judge panel of split 2-1, with Ambro dissenting.

Abu-Jamal filed his appeal of this ruling with the US Supreme Court today, Dec. 19. Arguably the key issue will be the 1986 Batson v. Kentucky ruling established the right to a new trial if jurors were excluded on the basis of race. At the 1982 trial Prosecutor McGill used 10-11 of his 15 peremptory strikes to remove otherwise acceptable black jurors, yet the court ruled that there was not even the appearance of discrimination. In his dissenting opinion, Judge Ambro wrote that the denial of a preliminary Batson hearing "goes against the grain of our prior actions...I see no reason why we should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedents."

Separately, the DA is appealing to execute without a new sentencing-phase trial, having filed their brief on November 14, 2008. Abu-Jamal's deadline to respond to this is January 21, 2009.