Prosecutors will no longer seek the death penalty for African-American journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams announced yesterday, two days before the 30th anniversary of Abu-Jamal’s arrest on 9 December 1981 for policeman Daniel Faulkner’s murder.
The announcement came two months after the US Supreme Court declined to consider the district attorney’s bid to uphold Abu-Jamal’s death sentence. The effect of yesterday’s announcement is to commute the sentence to life imprisonment.
“This announcement is victory that ends an inhuman wait for execution,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We are pleased that Mumia Abu-Jamal’s life has finally been saved after nearly 30 years of contradictory judicial decisions on death row. But there is a major limitation: any appeal is now impossible and Abu-Jamal’s conviction for Daniel Faulkner’s murder cannot be challenged although the 1982 trial was unfair and marred by racial prejudice.”
Abu-Jamal’s death sentence was quashed in April by a Philadelphia federal appeals court on the grounds the original jury was given poor instructions. The court gave the state of Pennsylvania six months to select a jury and hold a new sentencing hearing, or otherwise agree to a life sentence.
District attorney Williams tried to get the Supreme Court to confirm the original death sentence, but in an 11 October decision, the court refused to examine the case. Only the sentence has been at issue. There has been never been any question of a retrial.
Writer Jacques Lederer, joint coordinator of the Mumia Abu-Jamal support collective in France, told Reporters Without Borders: “His transfer to another prison will give him more freedom but will not necessarily provide him with effective protection.” Comments by Faulkner’s wife suggesting that Abu-Jamal may not be safe in prison are cause for concern.
Two members of the collective, Jacky Hortaut and Claude Guillaumaud, flew to Philadelphia yesterday to meet with Abu-Jamal.
“This is very political case, Guillaumaud told Reporters Without Borders. “The district attorney, Seth Williams, wants to be mayor of Philadelphia, and that is impossible without the support of the Philadelphia Police Fraternal Order. A new hearing would have opened up a Pandora’s box. A new jury hearing would have raised questions about the Philadelphia police, presented new evidence and cast doubt on Mumia’s guilt. It was a strategic choice. Mumia would have preferred a new hearing in order to make his voice heard. The battle goes on.”
Reporters Without Borders continues to support Abu-Jamal, an international symbol of the campaign against the death penalty.