Senior Correspondent

New evidence in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case (FCN, 12-23-2007)

WASHINGTON ( – A federal appeals court refused to overturn the conviction of death row journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal on March 27 and rejected his call for a new trial. Mr. Abu-Jamal has been on death row for 26 years.

In 1982 Mr. Abu-Jamal was convicted of murder in the killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner following a controversial, racially tense trial before a predominantly White jury.


A three-judge panel of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals did order a new sentencing hearing in the case because of flawed jury instructions. If he is re-sentenced, he could again get the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

“We will not accept this vicious and outrageous decision to keep an innocent man locked up and silenced,” Pam Africa, coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal said in a statement.

“The only reason the government wants Mumia killed or locked up for life is because he has been so successful in exposing the hypocrisy, racism, oppression and deadliness of this system,” Ms. Africa continued.

“Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man who never should have even been arrested let alone convicted and sentenced to death,” the International Action Center said in a statement. IAC members staged a protest of the court ruling March 28 at the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in New York City.

A world-renowned journalist and writer, and a supporter in the 1980s of Philadelphia’s MOVE back-to-nature collective, Mr. Abu-Jamal’s recorded messages and his numerous books have been heard and read around the world.

Calls for a new and fair trial for Mr. Abu-Jamal have come from Amnesty International, the Congressional Black Caucus, Harvard University Law School’s Civil Rights Institute, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, former French President Jacques Chirac, the Japanese Diet (parliament), hundreds of British attorneys, thousands of artists, writers and other intellectuals in this country and around the world.

“It’s not a victory at all for Abu-Jamal,” Linn Washington, Jr., an associate professor in the Department of Journalism at Temple University told The Final Call. “This is not a new hearing for a new trial or any kind of a procedure that will lead to a new trial. So this is a very bad ruling for him, in terms of his desire to either be released totally or to get a mechanism where he can fairly present evidence in court and win an acquittal.”

The ruling does, however have a “silver lining,” according to Robert Bryan, Mr. Abu-Jamal’s lead attorney. “On the negative side, the court ruled against granting a new jury trial on the issue of guilt and innocence,” Mr. Bryan told The Final Call. “And we were rather astounded that the court made that ruling.

“The silver lining to that ruling, to that dark cloud, is that it was a split court. We were before three judges. Two judges ruled against us; a third judge rendered a 41-page dissent in which he strongly criticized the majority and said that racism was at work in this case. The prosecution engaged racism in removing people of color, African Americans, from sitting on the jury of Mumia Abu-Jamal. So that really gives us a road map or, if you will, a very bright light in the darkness of where we go from here, because my goal is to achieve a new trial for Mumia,” said Mr. Bryan.

Mr. Abu Jamal’s legal team plans to appeal the decision of the three-judge panel to the entire nine-member Third Circuit Court, and if necessary to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Mr. Bryan.

“And, of course, the elephant in the room, is the racism in jury selection,” said Mr. Bryan. “The District Attorney’s office in Philadelphia–back during, particularly during that period in the early ’80s, late ’70s and mid- to late ’80s–engaged in a pattern, this is judicially recognized, of removing people from sitting on juries because of race, because of the color of their skin.

“And when we argued this case before the three-judge panel last May 17, I completed the argument by asking the rhetorical question: Are we to believe that the District Attorney did not engage in racism in jury selection in this case, when it’s judicially recognized it did in case after case, both before and after the trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal?

“And Mumia Abu-Jamal, as people certainly know, is a very activist writer, journalist–he’s written five books on death row–and he’s the person who’s always bringing the authorities, the establishment, to task. He’s very critical of abuse of government, people abusing power, of racism, that type of thing. And so, racism was certainly at work in this case,” he said.

The majority of the three-judge panel denied Mr. Abu-Jamal’s appeal on procedural, rather than substantive grounds, according to Mr. Washington who worked alongside Mr. Abu-Jamal as a journalist in Philadelphia in the 1970s and early 1980s.

“Two of the judges said that he did not raise these objections (to racial discrimination in the selection of his jury) on time, and because he didn’t raise them in a timely manner, he was precluded from ever raising them,” Mr. Washington explained. “And because he didn’t raise them in a timely manner, then he was precluded from ever raising those. So they don’t even have to rule on whether he did in fact experience racism–which he did. Just because he didn’t say, ‘Hey. I’ve been harmed by this,’ within the right time frame, they said that he couldn’t raise the issues.

“The (dissenting) judge said that’s crazy. One of the things it does is create a new standard, which even the U.S. Supreme Court has not adopted. He said that is absolutely wrong. The fact that this court created a new standard–a new hurdle–for Abu-Jamal to jump over, is so consistent with what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has done, where they’ll make a ruling today; when Abu-Jamal’s case comes tomorrow, they’ll change it; and then two days later they’ll change it back to the original one, just so they can keep him from being released or get any modicum of justice.”

The Third Circuit had previously ruled that if there was any evidence of a single Black juror being excluded from a jury, the person who was harmed by that should get a new trial, Mr. Washington explained.

Ironically, just eight days before this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict and death sentence of a Louisiana man, concluding that a Black juror had been unfairly excluded from the man’s jury. The court ordered that the defendant, Allen Snyder, get a new trial. In a 7-2 decision the Supreme Court said the state trial judge erred when he allowed prosecutors to strike a Black college student from that jury.

–Askia Muhammad