Ex-Panther no more on death row
Maureen Faulkner, widow of the murdered police officer, is seen at the podium with officials. AP photoProsecutors will no longer pursue the death penalty in the 30-year-old case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther convicted of killing a police officer. Abu-Jamal, 58, will instead spend the rest of his life in prison.
“Abu-Jamal is very excited about the decision. This is a partial victory for him and his supporters and it is a result of 30 years of petitioning,” said Johanna Fernandez, an activist and assistant professor of history at Baruch College of the City University of New York.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams made the decision after legal setbacks, but said he had acted reluctantly and still believed the original sentence of capital punishment was “appropriate,” Agence France-Presse reported.
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.
“The decision will set an example for future cases and it shows again that the justice system is biased in the United States which is a reflection of the American system,” Fernandez said. “The judge of the case outside the courtroom said ‘fry the n****r.’”
Widener University law professor Judith Ritter, who represented Abu-Jamal in recent appeals, welcomed the move, the Associated Press reported. “There is no question that justice is served when a death sentence from a misinformed jury is overturned.”
Abu-Jamal received worldwide support from the “Free Mumia” movement, with hundreds of vocal supporters and death-penalty opponents regularly turning out for court hearings in his case. To his supporters, Abu-Jamal was an international symbol of a racist justice system and police brutality that had been framed for his political views.
Asked whether any legal steps to be taken were left, Fernandez said new compelling evidence would be needed and any further steps would take some time due to the current legal system. Fernandez also said activists and supporters do not believe any compensation would make up for the wrong decision of capital punishment.