Ten Extra Years Spent On Death Row
In 2001, US District Court Judge William Yohn first "overturned" Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence, ruling that for a death sentence to be reinstated, the Philadelphia District Attorney must first hold a sentencing-phase jury trial, where the jury could only decide between execution or life without parole. The DA immediately appealed this ruling, in an effort to execute Abu-Jamal without bringing him to court before a jury in Philadelphia.
Following Yohn's 2001 ruling, Abu-Jamal could have been transferred from solitary confinement on death row at SCI Greene, and into general population. If transferred, he would have had more freedom, including contact visits with family and friends. However, Judge Yohn granted the motion by the DA to keep Abu-Jamal in punitive conditions on death row while the DA appealed Yohn's ruling. As a result, Abu-Jamal stayed on death row during an appeals process that lasted almost ten years, a process that has now upheld the sentence's removal.
In March 2008, the US Third Circuit Court affirmed Yohn's 2001 ruling, but in January 2010, the US Supreme Court vacated the 2008 ruling and remanded it back to the Third Circuit. In April 2011, the Third Circuit affirmed the 2001 ruling for the second time. Finally, in October 2011, the DA's final attempt to challenge the decision was rejected by the US Supreme Court, and in December the DA officially accepted the life sentence.
Fighting for Mumia's Release
While Abu-Jamal and his international network of supporters celebrated the final overturning of the death sentence, it was a bittersweet victory for a movement that has long fought for his release. In 2008 when the Third Circuit first affirmed Yohn's 2001 ruling, the Court also ruled against a new guilt-phase trial, effectively ended that avenue of appeal for Abu-Jamal to be released from prison.
At this point, a new trial will likely require the bringing forth of new evidence. The investigation of police and prosecutorial misconduct, including the suppression of crucial evidence and the intimidation of witnesses could also lead to a new trial. These are the avenues that will be pursued to obtain Mumia's freedom. Among the new evidence that has come out in recent years, Philadelphia journalists Linn Washington Jr. and Dave Lindorff have recently performed a ballistics test, (watch video) fundamentally challenging the DA's shooting scenario/theory used to convict Abu-Jamal.
In Philadelphia on December 9, the 30th anniversary of Abu-Jamal's arrest, supporters organized a large event at the National Constitution Center that was attended by over 1,000 people. Declaring that a sentence of life without parole is unacceptable, speakers ranging from author/activist Cornel West to Ramona Africa of MOVE & the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, pledged to continue fighting for Abu-Jamal's freedom. Prerecorded video messages to the December 9 event were delivered by author/activist Michelle Alexander and the internationally renowned human rights activist Desmond Tutu, who days before has already released a statement declaring: