By Dave Lindorff
On the 30th anniversary of a fateful shooting incident, the decision has finally been announced: There will be no execution of African-American journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who in 1982 was convicted and sentenced to death in a highly-controversial and seriously corrupted trial before "hanging" Judge Albert Sabo of killing white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981.
At a press conference this morning, current Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, with Faulkner's widow Maureen Faulkner at his side, announced that in the wake of a US Supreme Court decision in October not to hear an appeal of a Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had upheld the lifting of Abu-Jamal's death sentence, he would not seek a new jury trial to try and re-sentence Abu-Jamal's to death.
Abu-Jamal's death sentence was originally overturned in December 2001 in a decision by Federal District Judge William Yohn, who ruled that a poorly worded and constructed Jury polling form and confusing instructions from the trial judge were unconstitutional and could well have left jurors thinking, incorrectly, that none of them could consider a mitigating circumstance that argued against imposing a death penalty unless all 12 of the jurors agree to it. In fact, any one juror can find any mitigating circumstance and on that basis vote against death on their own, and since a death sentence must be unanimous, can block imposition of such a penalty.
A three-judge Third Circuit Court of Appeals panel twice endorsed Yohn's ruling, but their decision was appealed by DA Williams to the US Supreme Court, which finally decided to let the decision stand. Williams had 180 days from that decision to decide whether to seek a new trial on that penalty.
All of Abu-Jamal's avenues for appealing his conviction have been rejected by the courts, meaning that absent new evidence of his innocence, he is doomed to spend the rest of his life in jail -- though he must now be removed from the hellish death row in Greene, PA, where he has spent most of his last 29 years confined in solitary confinement in a windowless room the size of a small apartment bathroom. On death row, Abu-Jamal and other condemned prisoners are not allowed to physically touch visitors--even wives, siblings, children and grandchildren. They are shackled when they "meet" visitors through a plexiglass window, though escape is impossible under such circumstances.
The vindictiveness of the prosecutor, the officer's widow, and of former Gov. Ed Rendell, who was the district attorney in Philadelphia in charge of the case when Abu-Jamal was tried, was palpable at Williams' press conference.
Williams said the decision not to seek a new penalty trial was "not an easy one to make." He said, "There has never been a doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner, and I believe the appropriate sentence was handed down in 1982. While Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing the death penalty, he will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, and that is exactly where he belongs."