Moral Low Ground

US Government

U.S. Supreme Court Declares Mumia Abu-Jamal Death Sentence Unconstitutional

The United States Supreme Court yesterday denied an appeal by the Philadelphia District Attorney to permanently re-instate the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who in 1982 was dubiously convicted of murdering a police officer the previous year. The High Court’s ruling means that unless Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams conducts a new sentencing hearing, Abu-Jamal, who is now 57 years old, will spend the rest of his life behind bars with no chance for parole.

The prosecutor’s appeal to the Supreme Court came after an April decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia that reaffirmed its own ruling that Abu-Jamal’s sentencing hearing was unfair.

On December 9, 1981, 25-year-old Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner was patrolling Center City when he pulled over a car driven by William Cook, Abu-Jamal’s brother. Abu-Jamal, who was a taxicab driver at the time, came upon the scene of the traffic stop and approached Officer Faulkner. Prosecutors argued that Abu-Jamal pulled out a gun and shot Faulkner in the back. The officer returned fire, wounding Abu-Jamal. According to prosecutors, the injured shooter managed to stand over the downed officer and shoot him several times in the face at point-blank range.

But this account has been fiercely disputed. What is beyond argument is that Abu-Jamal did approach the scene of the traffic stop and that he was shot by Faulkner. But it is quite possible that Kenneth Freeman, a passenger in Cook’s car, was the real shooter. However, jurors heard nothing of Freeman at Abu-Jamal’s trial.

Supporting the prosecution’s case was a handgun registered to Abu-Jamal that was found at the scene with five spent shell casings.

Abu-Jamal was severely beaten by police while being transported to the hospital after being shot.

The trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal has been widely slammed as unfair, with Amnesty International and others calling for a new trial. In addition to being denied a fair trial, the Philadelphia Police Department at that time was ridden with corruption and plagued with cases of officers fabricating defendants’ guilt. Many believe that Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panthers and a vocal critic of police violence, was framed, as were four other men in 1981. One of these men spent nearly four years on death row before being acquitted; another spent a staggering 20 years behind bars before being exonerated by DNA evidence and a confession from the real killers.

Abu-Jamal became a worldwide cause célèbre due to the unjust nature of his conviction and death sentence. Heads of state from France to South Africa, the European Parliament, Nobel Laureates Nelson Mandela, Toni Morrison and Desmond Tutu, the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, Amnesty International and many, many others have lined up to support his cause. Abu-Jamal’s brilliant writings and powerful radio broadcasts from behind bars have swelled the ranks of his supporters.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent the last 29 years on Pennsylvania’s Death Row.



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