- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mumia Abu-Jamal may be “live from death row” again.

In the latest twist in a case that for nearly three decades has been at the center of the nation’s anti-death-penalty movement, the Supreme Court on Tuesday delivered a ruling that could reinstate the convicted cop killer’s death sentence.

The high court overturned, in an unsigned one-paragraph order, a lower court’s decision to throw out the death sentence for Abu-Jamal, who has been called death row’s most famous inmate and whose case has been a cause celebre for liberal academics, activists and artists.

A former Black Panther and radio journalist, Abu-Jamal, now 55, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 shooting death of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

In 2008, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld Abu-Jamal’s conviction, but overturned his death sentence because of a flaw in the jury instructions during the trial. The 3rd Circuit ruled that it was not made clear to jurors that they didn’t need to agree unanimously on the existence of any specific mitigating factor, which could have spared Abu-Jamal the death penalty.

The appeals court said a new hearing had to be held to determine whether Abu-Jamal should receive the death penalty or life in prison. If the state chose not to have a new hearing, Abu Jamal would automatically receive life in prison, the court ruled.

The Supreme Court dismissed that ruling Tuesday in light of a case with similar issues it decided last week. In last week’s case, the court reinstated the death sentence of Frank Spisak, a neo-Nazi who killed three people in 1983 in Ohio.

A lower federal court had similarly ruled in that case that the jury instructions regarding mitigating factors was faulty. But the Supreme Court ruled that it was not the place of a federal appeals court to make such a ruling on a state issue.

“Since the parties do not dispute that the Ohio courts ‘adjudicated’ this claim, i.e., they considered it and rejected it ‘on the merits,’ the law permits federal court to reach a contrary decision only if the state-court decision ‘was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law,’” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote in the majority opinion. “Unlike the court of appeals, we conclude the Spisak claim does not satisfy this standard.”

On Tuesday, the high court said the 3rd Circuit should reconsider its ruling vacating Abu-Jamal’s death sentence in light of the new precedent set in the Spisak case.

Neither Abu-Jamal’s defense team nor an organization that rebuts claims made by his supporters returned e-mails Tuesday seeking comments.

Abu-Jamal has been a frequent commentator on the death penalty and other social issues since his incarceration. In 1995 his memoir, “Live From Death Row,” was published. He has been made an honorary citizen of such world cities as Montreal, Paris and Copenhagen; the French city of St. Denis named a street Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal.

While Abu-Jamal has support from groups and people both in the U.S. and internationally, Officer Faulkner’s family and groups including the Fraternal Order of Police are just as aggressive in their condemnations of him.

Officer Faulkner was killed during a traffic stop. He was able to shoot Abu-Jamal once in the chest before succumbing to injuries caused by multiple gunshot wounds. Police found the gun used in the killing at the scene.

When the racially charged case — Abu Jamal is black; Officer Faulkner is white — went to trial, four witnesses identified Abu-Jamal as the killer.

Abu-Jamal continues to maintain his innocence. He and his supporters claim he is the victim of racial injustice.

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