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December 7, 2011

(In)famous Pennsylvania cop killing case is no longer a capital case

This AP story, which is headlined "Death penalty dropped against Mumia Abu-Jamal," reports on the end of an extraordinarily long-running capital case. Here are the details:

Prosecutors on Wednesday abandoned their 30-year pursuit of the execution of convicted police killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther whose claim that he was the victim of a racist legal system made him an international cause celebre.

Abu-Jamal, 58, will instead spend the rest of his life in prison.  His writings and radio broadcasts from death row had put him at the center of an international debate over capital punishment.

Flanked by Officer Daniel Faulkner's widow, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced his decision two days short of the 30th anniversary of the white policeman's killing.  He said continuing to seek the death penalty could lead to "an unknowable number of years" of appeals, and that some witnesses have died or are unavailable after nearly three decades.

"There's never been any doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner.  I believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers in 1982," said Williams, the city's first black district attorney. "While Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing the death penalty, he will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, and that is where he belongs."

Abu-Jamal was originally sentenced to death.  His murder conviction was upheld through years of appeals.  But in 2008, a federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing on the grounds that the instructions given to the jury were potentially misleading.  After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in two months ago, prosecutors were forced to decide whether to pursue the death penalty again or accept a life sentence without parole.

Williams said he reached the decision with the blessing of Faulkner's widow, Maureen. "Another penalty proceeding would open the case to the repetition of the state appeals process and an unknowable number of years of federal review again, even if we were successful," the district attorney said.

Widener University law professor Judith Ritter, who represented Abu-Jamal in recent appeals, welcomed the move.  "There is no question that justice is served when a death sentence from a misinformed jury is overturned," Ritter said.  "Thirty years later, the district attorney's decision not to seek a new death sentence also furthers the interests of justice."...

Faulkner's widow labored to ensure her husband was not forgotten.  "My family and I have endured a three-decade ordeal at the hands of Mumia Abu-Jamal, his attorneys and his supporters, who in many cases never even took the time to educate themselves about the case before lending their names, giving their support and advocating for his freedom," she said Wednesday.  "All of this has taken an unimaginable physical, emotional and financial toll on each of us."

Amnesty International, which maintains that Abu-Jamal's trial was "manifestly unfair and failed to meet international fair trial standards," said the district attorney's decision does not go far enough. Abu-Jamal still has an appeal pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court over the validity of ballistics evidence. " Amnesty International continues to believe that justice would best be served by granting Mumia Abu-Jamal a new trial," said Laura Moye, director of the human rights group's Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Members of Philadelphia's police community stood with Williams and Maureen Faulkner as the decision was announced.  Former police union president Rich Costello criticized the courts for ordering a new sentencing hearing.  "Where do Maureen and the Faulkner family go for a reduction in their sentence?" Costello said.  "For 30 years now, they have been forced to suffer grief, anguish, abuse, insults, intimidation, threats and every other sort of indignity that can be visited on a family already in grief."

Faulkner lashed out at the judges who overturned the death sentence, calling them "dishonest cowards" who, she said, oppose the death penalty.  The widow also vowed to fight any special treatment for Abu-Jamal behind bars, saying he should be moved to the general population after being taken off death row.

As Faulkner's widow understandably "remains eager to ensure her husband was not forgotten," I wonder if Mumia Abu-Jamal might himself now soon be forgotten now that he no longer faces the death penalty. 

Instead of being among the roughly 3,200 persons on death row in the United States, Abu-Jamal now is just one of tens of thousands of persons in the US serving a life sentence.  (I assume, given the comments by the Philadelphia DA, that Abu-Jamal's sentence now is LWOP and not life with parole.)  My sense is that defendants on death row rarely have a difficult time getting media and worldwide attention, whereas persons serving life sentences find it much harder to get folks to be deeply concerned about their plight.  But, of course, the long controversial history of Mumia Abu-Jamal's case and his claims of innocence might help keep him in the news.

December 7, 2011 at 05:17 PM | Permalink

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Comments

That Third Circuit panel (and the Supreme Court) should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 7, 2011 6:04:26 PM

There are always two sides to every story. I just hope justice will be given to the side where it is due.

Posted by: Los Angeles Injury Attorney | Dec 7, 2011 6:14:35 PM

What is the difference whether they seek the death penalty or not? It's never going to be carried out in Pennsylvania anyway.

Posted by: DaveP | Dec 7, 2011 7:29:00 PM

The killer had pretenses to literary interest. So the feminist, English lit types came to his defense.

Those who believe in prayer, pray he gets cancer that spreads to all his bones, so he endures the pain of dozens of bone fractions, simultaneously, and that only cheap, generic medications are on the prison formulary. Those who wanted real revenge against this cop killer will get their wish with a 90% certainty of torment (the fraction of us who die slow and rough). I hope the craven people of Pennsylvania get to spend $millions on his end of life futile care. At 58, his organs have already begun to deteriorate. To the widow of the officer he gunned down needlessly, you will still get your revenge.

Pray the same fate befalls his horrible person, feminist defense attorney, and the know nothing judges of Pennsylvania.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 8, 2011 12:14:38 AM

Federalist:

The Third Circuit's opinion seems at first glance to be a fairly straightforward application of Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988). Take Abu-Jamal's name out of the case and this case does not warrant a story in the press.

Also, the Third Circuit's opinion was authored by a Reagan appointee and joined in full by a Reagan appointee. The Supreme Court denied cert. without dissent.

You suggest that the Third Circuit panel not only erred, but that the error was so great that they should be ashamed of themselves. That said, I wonder, what was the shameful error that not only the two Reagan appointees, but the entire United States Supreme Court overlooked?

Posted by: C | Dec 8, 2011 8:56:58 AM

Someone like Stuart Taylor, not exactly a lefty, has in the past noted that this guy's conviction was handled badly, putting aside the issue of factual guilt. On that level, though I simply don't know, from what I read, it seems he is guilty but that there is a reasonable claim that the process was unfair in some fashion.

The result is a lot of rhetoric over the years that after awhile annoyed me in part because one celebrity death row inmate got all the press while many more (some probably having better cases) did not. He became more a symbol for certain activists (all sides have such symbols) than anything else. Meanwhile, he serve his time in prison, being punished and not someone apparently a threat to escape or kill in prison.

Such people should imho be mostly forgotten about, locked away some place, while being punished for his crime, which won't occur if there is a threat of an execution as a result of a process that one need not be a lefty anti-capital punishment type to find hinky.

Posted by: Joe | Dec 8, 2011 10:56:01 AM

C: "...what was the shameful error that ... the entire United States Supreme Court overlooked?"

SCOTUS "overlooks" serious errors all the time, if by that you mean denies certiorari. The Court has said time after time after time after time that denial of certiorari does not imply agreement with the decision below.

In addition, the lack of a dissenting opinion on denial of certiorari does not mean the decision was unanimous. Public dissents are the exception. The vast majority of cases are denied without disclosure of the vote.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Dec 9, 2011 1:14:17 AM

Kent, it was Federalist, not me, that suggested the Supreme Court, along with the Third Circuit, should be ashamed of itself. I am asking him what error they made that should leave them shamed. Why did you direct your response to me and not Federalist?

Posted by: C | Dec 9, 2011 10:43:27 AM

C, take a look at Zettlemoyer v. Faulconer. The Pa. Supreme Court basically came out the same way as the Third Circuit did in Zettlemoyer, so how in the world could it be said to have acted unreasonably. That the US Supreme Court did nothing about that is a black mark on that court. The federal courts jerked around Mrs. Faulkner for 10 years--that was shameful. And the Supreme Court let it happen.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 9, 2011 6:29:12 PM

C: "Reagan appointee"

The Rent Seeking Theory explains all anomalous lawyer decisions. So Scalia led the charge to remove the Sentencing Guidelines, the sole and greatest lawyer achievement of the 20th Century, resulting in a 40% drop in crime rate. No matter how extreme the political views all judge vermin are pro-lawyer job creation. The deceased generate nothing for the lawyer, thus horrible killers become the pampered darlings of lawyer job seekers.

The police should target these judge vermin. Ticket them for parking more than 12 inches from the curb. Stop, ticket, and report to the Judicial Review board any travel over the speed limit. The neighbors, churches, families of these judge vermin should shun them, drive them out, and spit on them. As they make life unbearable for the families of murder victims, so should they have no peace. Unfortunately, procriminal rent seeking has infected the Philadelphia police department. They only attack Christians peacefully holding signs at Gay Pride parades.

District Attorney for the city of Philadelphia is a biased, black racist. He abandoned the pursuit of the death penalty because he is left wing, progressive, feminist running dog. The victim was white. The murderer was black. This black racist refuses to pursue justice for white murder victims.

He was a notorious supporter of the Occupy Philadelphia law breakers. He visited them, and prevented the police from doing their jobs.

As a result of this black racist, incompetent District Attorney, murder in Philadelphia is shooting up in rate, ironically in the black community. It is an unsafe city. He allows black flash mobs to attack white tourists with a slap on the wrist, return to their parents, thanks to the tacit permissiveness of this left wing, black racist. The downtown sidewalks are like back wards of state hospitals, filled with paranoid schizophrenics refusing treatment, screaming at their imaginary tormentors and at passers by. They also frequently batter random pedestrians. Homeless people harass people again. Run a gauntlet if you decide to visit the Constitutional Center. On second thought don't bother. It is a lying, misleading left wing biased exhibit, spewing false lawyer propaganda. This is the return of the 1980's for Philadelphia under this black racist District Attorney. Twelve year olds are packing Tec 9's again, thanks to the permissiveness of this progressive, left wing extremist, America Hater, black racist. He is even worse than the criminal lover feminist he replaces. One consolation: He lives in West Philly, and will certainly become a crime victim himself, along with his family, including three innocent daughters. Pray a 12 year old pistol whips him with a Tec 9 for not handing over the wallet fast enough. A twelve year old handed over to his mother after attacking tourists in a flash mob.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 11, 2011 12:43:47 AM

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