Mumia Abu-Jamal gets reprieve from Supreme Court, hails Wall Street protests

In an Oct. 12 podcast from Death Row at SCI-Greene “super-max” state prison in western Pennsylvania, Mumia Abu-Jamal issued a statement of support for the Occupy Wall Street movement and its sibling encampment in Philadelphia. In the statement, online via Prison Radio, Abu-Jamal compares the Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Philly demonstrations to the revolution in Egypt, as well as this year’s political protests in Wisconsin:

In Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, the cast of thousands swell in rebellion against betrayals by the banks, Wall Street’s relentless greed, the plague of joblessness, and the craven servility of the political class, both Republicans and Democrats, to their money masters. In short, the central focus of their protest is capitalism—greed at large, especially since the economic tumble of fall of 2008. Begun mostly by unemployed youth, it has drawn the presence and support of public workers, urban youth, students, teachers, and a considerable number of gray-hairs. That’s because social discontent is…spreading like wild-fire. Wall Street, and then days later, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Francisco and beyond… This is people’s power, sparked in part by the mass protests in Cairo and Wisconsin… May it remain so. From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

But Abu-Jamal no longer faces the death penalty, as of the Nov. 11 refusal by US Supreme Court to hear a petition by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office seeking to reinstate his capital sentence, which was struck down by a lower court earlier this year. Philadelphia prosecutors will now have to pursue a second death-penalty sentence or accept a life term for Abu-Jamal.

Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and radio journalist, has spent nearly 30 years on Death Row following his 1982 conviction for killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in a trial tainted by irregularities and racism. Amnesty International has for the last decade been demanding a new trial for Abu-Jamal, calling his conviction “deeply flawed.”

While appeals are exhausted for his conviction, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in April ordered a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal, finding that improper jury instructions had been given in his case. According to the Third Circuit, the instructions could have wrongfully indicated that there must be unanimous agreement among the jurors in order for mitigating factors to be considered. If Abu-Jamal is given the death penalty, it will be the first execution carried out by Pennsylvania since 1999, and only the third since 1976. A spokesperson for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said the office would not comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling while its appeals unit decides what to do next.

Abu-Jamal’s supporters are now demanding that he be transferred from Death Row, where he is held in solitary confinement, only able to receive visitors through heavy bullet-proof plexiglass, while being held in chains. (, IFEX, Oct. 14; IndyBay, Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 12; AP, Time, LAT’s Nation Now blog, This Can’t Be Happening blog, Oct. 11; Jurist, April 26; Amnesty International, Feb. 17, 2000)

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  1. Prosecutors drop death penalty against Mumia
    Prosecutors have called off their 30-year battle to execute Mumia Abu-Jamal. Flanked by the police officer Daniel Faulkner’s widow, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced his decision Dec. 7, just two days short of the 30th anniversary of the killing. He said continuing to seek death penalty would open the case to “an unknowable number of years” of appeals. The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case in October left prosecutors with the choice of again pursuing the death penalty through a new sentencing hearing or accepting a life sentence.

    “There’s never been any doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner. I believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers in 1982,” said Williams, the city’s first Black district attorney. “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 where he belongs.” (AP, Dec. 7)

    Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International’s Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty, said: “This is a welcome decision by the Philadelphia prosecutors. However, Amnesty International continues to believe that justice would best be served by granting Mumia Abu-Jamal a new trial.”

    While not taking a position on Mumia Abu-Jamal’s guilt or innocence, Amnesty International concluded in its report, “The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Life in the Balance,” that his original trial was manifestly unfair and failed to meet international fair trial standards.

    “Mumia Abu-Jamal’s trial featured the dismissal of African American jurors, inadequate defense representation, an openly hostile judge, the use of political statements to argue for a death sentence, and law enforcement’s unseemly agitation for execution throughout the entire process,” said Moye. “Given these fundamental flaws, it would have been unconscionable to put a Mumia Abu-Jamal to death.” (AI, Dec. 7)