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Third Circuit Appeals Court Sets Date for Oral Arguments in Mumia Case

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Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Philadelpia journalist and former Black Panther activist who has been on Pennsylvania's death row since 1982, will finally have his appeal of his conviction heard by a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which set a date of May 17.

At that session, Abu-Jamal will argue that his original trial for the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner was fatally flawed because of racial bias by the prosecutor in jury selection. He will argue that his conviction by that jury was improper because the prosecutor improperly was permitted to lessen jurors' sense of responsibility by assuring them that whatever they decided, the defendant would get "appeal after appeal" and so their decision "would not be final." He will also argue that his effort to appeal his conviction was damaged because his post-conviction relief act hearing was presided over by a judge who was clearly biased in favor of the district attorney.

The hearing will also hear a claim by the district attorney that Abu-Jamal's death sentence--lifted by a Federal Judge in 2001--should be reinstated. The federal district court had ruled that Abu-Jamal's sentence had been arrived at by a jury that was given improper and confusing instructions by Judge Albert Sabo, and that their sentencing form itself was misleading.

Meanwhile, it has been learned that the Philadelphia District Attorneys Office earlier this month attempted unsuccessfully to have the entire Third Circuit Court--one of the more liberal appeals courts in the nation--recused from hearing Abu-Jamal's appeal on the grounds that Abu-Jamal's claim of jury selection bias was charging then DA Ed Rendell (now Pennsylvania's governor), with having deliberately violated the law. Rendel's wife, Marjorie, is one of the appeals court judges in the Third Circuit.

Abu-Jamal's attorney Robert R. Bryan, objecting to the DA's effort, noted that there was no claim of illegality on the governor's part, but rather on the part of the prosecutor in the case, Joseph McGill. It is alleged that a succession of Philadelphia DA's encouraged their prosecutors to remove as many blacks as possible from capital juries, and documentary evidence has been submitted to show that this was done, both by the DA's office over all, and by assistant DA McGill in his own capital cases. During jury selection for Abu-Jamal's trial, 11 black potential jurors who had all agreed they could vote for a death penalty, were removed by McGill using his available peremptory challenges (meaning he did not have to give a reason for his action).

In a letter to the DA's office stating that the request to have all the circuit's judges recused from hearing the case had been rejected, the clerk of the court said that such a request would have to be made not as a letter, but in the form of a formal motion. In a scolding tone, the letter notes that such a motion "must be in proper form, i.e. an original and three copies and certificate of service."

"It must have been humiliating for the opposition" to receive such a note, comments attorney Bryan. He notes that to date, the DA has "not had the guts" to make such a formal motion, adding, "We'll see."

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Dave Lindorff, winner of a 2019 "Izzy" Award for Outstanding Independent Journalism from the Park Center for Independent Media in Ithaca, is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper (more...)

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