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In Mumia Case, Judges Argue Penalty and Sidestep Justice

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Mary Shaw       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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On November 9, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia heard arguments on whether Mumia Abu-Jamal, Pennsylvania's most famous death row inmate, should have his original death sentence reinstated or serve life in prison without parole. Abu-Jamal had been convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal's latest hearing was the result of a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court back in January, 2010, to throw out an earlier Third Circuit ruling that had rescinded his death sentence because of flawed jury instructions in his original trial. The issue involves how jurors were to weigh various mitigating factors that may have resulted in a sentence other than the death penalty.

The Supreme Court ordered the appellate court to reconsider its decision in light of a similar case in Ohio, in which the high court had reinstated the death sentence, saying that jurors do not need to agree unanimously on mitigating factors.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a decision from the Third Circuit is "not expected before 2011."

Meanwhile, as the judiciary reconsiders the penalty, many are questioning the legitimacy of the original trial that led to Abu-Jamal's conviction.

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A 2000 report by Amnesty International noted that "numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings." Amnesty expressed concerns about judicial bias and hostility, police misconduct, and the apparent withholding of evidence from the jury. Amnesty called for new trial "in a neutral venue, where the case has not polarized the public as it has in Philadelphia."

And, in 2009, the 95th annual convention of the NAACP passed an emergency resolution calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the cases of Abu-Jamal and some other prisoners.

A coalition of organizations and activists then followed the NAACP's lead and delivered more than 25,000 letters to the Justice Department, calling for a civil rights investigation into the Abu-Jamal case. This was accompanied by a press conference that included representatives of the NAACP, the National Lawyers Guild, Amnesty International, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the Riverside Church Prison Ministry, and other groups.

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To date, the Justice Department appears to have ignored the matter.

Abu-Jamal's staunchest supporters insist that he is innocent, that he was set up, and that racial bias and witness coercion had played a big part in an unfair trial. They also point out that Faulkner was killed with a .44 caliber gun, while the gun that Abu-Jamal was licensed to carry as a nighttime taxi driver was a .38 caliber.

At the same time, there are many people here in the Philadelphia area, and probably elsewhere, who want to believe that Abu-Jamal is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, and who are calling for his prompt execution. They say that his execution will finally bring closure to Faulkner's family and his colleagues in the Philadelphia Police Department.

But I ask them this: How can true closure be achieved unless we are absolutely certain that justice was served in a fair and unbiased manner?

Without that, we're not looking at justice, but rather at a case of reckless revenge against a conveniently controversial character.

And that seems downright un-American.

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)

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