Death penalty dropped against Mumia Abu-Jamal; victim’s widow agrees with decision


FILE--Death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal is pictured in a July 18, 1995 file photo. A prostitute changed her story and helped convict Abu-Jamal of murdering a Philadelphia police officer after police threatened her with a lengthy prison sentence on unrelated charges, Abu-Jamal's attorneys said Wednesday, May 22, 1996, in Philadelphia. (NANINE HARTZENBUSCH/AP)
December 8, 2011

Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther who was convicted of killing white police officer Daniel Faulkner and has spent the last several decades appealing his conviction, has been told by prosecutors that they will no longer seek the death penalty. As Elizabeth Flock reported:

Philadelphia prosecutors on Wednesday dropped their 30-year push for the death penalty for convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther whose case became well known because it was so racially charged.

Abu-Jamal, 58, will instead serve a life sentence.

While the decision follows decades of protests and public appeals, Wednesday's decision appears not to be a result of activist or lawyer action. Instead, the widow of slain officer Daniel Faulkner has reportedly persuaded prosecutors to stop pushing for the death penalty, saying she was tired of the constant reminders of her husband’s death.

Free Mumia activists, including many celebrities, have long said that Jamal was railroaded when he was convicted of shooting Faulkner during a traffic stop.

The Philadelphia DA said his decision was based on the fact that several witnesses had died or were unavailable to testify as appeals continue. As AP explained :

Flanked by police Officer Daniel Faulkner’s widow, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced his decision two days short of the 30th anniversary of the white patrolman’s killing.

He said that continuing to seek the death penalty could lead to “an unknowable number of years” of appeals, and that some witnesses have died or are unavailable after nearly three decades.

“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.”

Abu-Jamal was originally sentenced to death. His murder conviction was upheld through years of appeals. But in 2008, a federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing on the grounds that the instructions given to the jury were potentially misleading.

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in two months ago, prosecutors were forced to decide whether to pursue the death penalty again or accept a life sentence without parole.

Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the slain officer, said she agreed with the decision, saying she knew the death penalty would never be given to Abu-Jamal. As AP reported :

Maureen Faulkner waited nearly 30 years for her husband’s murderer to be executed. But following a seemingly endless cycle of legal appeals, she said she realized it would never happen.

On Wednesday, Faulkner gave her blessing to the decision by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams to stop pursuing the death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose claim that he was the victim of a racist legal system made him an international cause celebre.

“My family and I have endured a three-decade ordeal at the hands of Mumia Abu-Jamal, his attorneys and his supporters, who in many cases never even took the time to educate themselves about the case before lending their names, giving their support and advocating for his freedom,” Maureen Faulkner said. “All of this has taken an unimaginable physical, emotional and financial toll on each of us.”

Williams, the city’s first black district attorney, announced the decision two days short of the 30th anniversary of the patrolman’s death. Williams said that “it is time to put this case to rest, for the good of the city of Philadelphia and, most importantly, the family of Daniel Faulkner.”

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