District attorney denied attempt to reinstate Abu-Jamal death penalty
W.A.T.E.R. 17 Special to the AmNews | 1/26/2012, 11:06 a.m.
On Tuesday, Oct. 11, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Philadelphia prosecutor Seth Williams' attempt to reinstate the death penalty in the case of revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. The political prisoner of war is now condemned to life in prison without the possibility of parole, unless prosecutors again seek a new death penalty sentence.
In April, a federal appeals court declared Abu-Jamal's death sentence unconstitutional due to misleading instructions delivered to the jury during the sentencing phase of his trial in 1982.
Prosecutors sought to have the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the appellate decision, which would have opened the door for reinstatement of the death penalty in his case.
Abu-Jamal, convicted for the 1981 death of a Caucasian Philadelphia cop, should have received a life sentence instead of being placed on death row if jurors had not unanimously determined that mitigating circumstances outweighed the aggravating factor during his trial.
Tuesday's decision upholds Judge William H. Yohn's 2001 ruling, which first determined that Abu-Jamal deserved a new sentencing hearing. In 2008, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Philadelphia prosecutor's attempt to combat Yohn's decision after determining the verdict form to be too confusing.
Widener University law professor Judith Ritter and the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund represented Abu-Jamal in the latest appeal.
"At long last, the profoundly troubling prospect of Mr. Abu-Jamal facing an execution that was produced by an unfair and unreliable penalty phase has been eliminated," said John Payton, director-counsel of the Legal Defense Fund. "Like all Americans, Mr. Abu-Jamal was entitled to a proper proceeding that takes into account the many substantial reasons why death was an inappropriate sentence."
Ritter added, "Our system should never condone an execution that stems from a trial in which the jury was improperly instructed on the law."
Williams' office released a statement on the verdict, which read: "[The] prosecutors plan to take some time before deciding their next move. The district attorney, along with members of the office's law division, need to determine the next course of action in this case and no decision will be made today."
This latest ruling concludes three decades of litigation over the fairness of the sentencing hearing that resulted in Abu-Jamal being put on death row.
The recent murder of Troy Davis at the hands of the state of Georgia has put the debate over the death penalty in the spotlight once again. Abu-Jamal has remained relevant through his regular writings and radio broadcasts, drawing international attention.
His supporters are preparing for an "All Out for Mumia" rally on Dec. 9 at Philadelphia's Constitution Center. For more information, visit freemumia.com or call (212) 330-8029.