prosecutors have called off their 30-year battle to execute former black panther mumia abu-jamal for allegedly murdering a white, male police officer, putting to an end the racially charged case that became a major battleground in the fight over the death penalty.
flanked by maureen faulkner, the widow of police officer daniel faulkner, philadelphia district attorney seth williams announced his decision wednesday, just two days short of the 30th anniversary of the killing. he said continuing to seek the death penalty would open the case to "an unknowable number of years" of appeals.
said williams, "there's never been any doubt in my mind that mumia abu-jamal shot & killed officer faulkner. i believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers in 1982." williams, the city's first black district attorney continued, "while abu-jamal will no longer be facing the death penalty, he will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, & that is where he belongs."
abu-jamal was convicted of fatally shooting faulkner dec 9, 1981. he was sentenced to death after his trial the following year. abu-jamal, who has been incarcerated in a pennsylvania prison over 29 years, has garnered worldwide support from those who believe he was & continues to be victimized by a racially biased justice system.
the writings & radio broadcasts of abu-jamal from death row made him a cause celebre & the subject of numerous books & movies. his 1995 book, "live from death row," describes prison life & calls the justice system racist & ruled by political expediency. the one-time journalist, reaped global support from the "free mumia" movement. hundreds of vocal supporters & death penalty opponents regularly attend court hearings in his case, even though abu-jamal is rarely entitled to be present.
the conviction was upheld through years of legal appeals. but a federal appeals court ordered a new sentence hearing after ruling the instructions given to the jury were potentially misleading. the u.s. supreme court declined to weigh in on the case in october, forcing prosecutors to decide if they wanted to again pursue the death penalty through a new sentencing hearing or accept a life sentence.
williams said he reached the decision to drop the death penalty bid with the blessing of maureen faulkner, who said another sentencing hearing would be just the beginning of another long, arduous appeals process. "another penalty proceeding would open the case to the repetition of the state appeals process & an unknowable number of years of federal review again, even if he were successful," williams said. he also said after nearly three decades some witnesses have died, or are otherwise unreliable.
widener university law professor judith ritter, who represented abu-jamal, applauded the decision. "there is no question that justice is served when a death sentence from a misinformed jury is overturned. 30 years later, the district attorney's decision not to seek a new death sentence also furthers the interests of justice," said ritter.
according to trial testimony, abu-jamal saw his brother scuffle with the young patrolman during a 4:00 am traffic stop in 1981 & ran toward the scene. police found abu-jamal wounded from a round from faulkner's gun. faulkner, shot several times, was killed. a .38-caliber revolver registered to abu-jamal was found at the scene with five spent shell casings.
maureen faulkner continues trying to remain visible to ensure her slain husband is not forgotten. they were 25 year-old newlyweds when he died. wednesday she said, "my family & i have endured a three-decade ordeal at the hands of mumia abu-jamal, his attorneys & his supporters, who in many cases never even took the time to educate themselves about the case before lending their names, giving their support & advocating for his freedom. all of this has taken an unimaginable physical, emotional & financial toll on each of us."
abu-jamal, born wesley cook, turned 58 earlier this year. his message resonated particularly on college campuses & in the movie & music industries - actors mike farrell & tim robbins were among dozens of luminaries who used a new york times ad to advocate for a new trial. the beastie boys played a concert to raise money for abu-jamal's defense fund.
over the years, abu-jamal has fearlessly & steadfastly challenged the lily-white makeup of the jury, instructions given to jurors & the statements of eyewitnesses. he also alleges ineffective counsel, racism by the trial judge & another man confessed to the crime.
but maureen faulkner railed against what she called the justice system's "dirty little secret" - the difficulty of putting condemned killers to death. since the u.s. supreme court restored the death penalty in 1976, pennsylvania has put to death three people; each of those individuals willingly gave up on their appeals.
faulkner lashed out at the judges who overturned abu-jamal's death sentence, calling them "dishonest cowards," whom, she said oppose the death penalty. "the disgusting reality with the death penalty in pennsylvania is that the fix is in before the hearing even begins," she says. faulkner also vowed to fight anyone who tries to extract special treatment for abu-jamal, advocating instead he now be moved to the general population.
she said, "i will not stand by & see him coddled, as he has been in the past. & i am heartened that he will be taken from the protective cloister he has been living in all those years & begin living among his own kind - the thugs & common criminals that infest our prisons."
both sides have events planned to commemorate faulkner's death & abu-jamal's subsequent arrest. faulkner, williams & others involved in the prosecution will gather in suburban philadelphia to mark the anniversary this week for a screening of the anti-mumia documentary by philly filmmaker tigre hill. supporters of abu-jamal, including princeton professor cornel west, planned a symposium friday at the national constitution center for the man they call an "innocent revolutionary & celebrated journalist."
south african archbishop desmond tutu said, "when the south african constitutonal court was set up after the end of the apartheid regime, one of its first acts was to abolish the death penalty. for three decades, mumia has been held in a windowless, bathroom-sized cell & denied any physical contact with his family or members of his community. this is in violation of the u.s.'s own constitution. now that it is clear that mumia should never have been on death row, justice will not be served by relegating him to prison for the rest of his life - yet another form of death sentence."
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.