- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2008

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A federal appeals court yesterday said former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal cannot be executed for killing a Philadelphia police officer without a new penalty hearing.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Abu-Jamal’s conviction should stand, but that he should get a new sentencing hearing because of flawed jury instructions. If prosecutors don’t want to give him a new death-penalty hearing, Abu-Jamal would be sentenced automatically to life in prison.

Abu-Jamal, 53, once a radio reporter, has attracted a legion of artists and activists to his cause in a quarter-century on death row. A Philadelphia jury convicted him in 1982 of killing Officer Daniel Faulkner, 25, after the patrolman pulled over Abu-Jamal’s brother in an overnight traffic stop.

He had appealed, arguing that racism by the judge and prosecutors corrupted his conviction at the hands of a mostly white jury. Prosecutors, meanwhile, had appealed a federal judge’s 2001 decision to grant Abu-Jamal a new sentencing hearing because of the jury instructions.

Hundreds of people protested outside the federal building in Philadelphia where arguments were heard in May and an overflow crowd — including legal scholars, students, lawyers, the policeman’s widow and Abu-Jamal’s brother — filled the courtroom. Abu-Jamal’s writings and taped speeches on the justice system have made him a popular figure among activists who think he was the victim of racism. Abu-Jamal is black; Officer Faulkner was white.

The flaw in the jury instructions related to whether jurors understood how to weigh mitigating circumstances that might keep Abu-Jamal off death row. Under the law, jurors did not have to unanimously agree on a mitigating circumstance.

Messages left for Abu-Jamal’s lawyer, Robert R. Bryan of San Francisco, were not immediately returned.

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