Philadelphia cop killer spared death penalty

Abu-Jamal to spend the rest of his life in prison after DA ends 30-year effort

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PHILADELPHIA Prosecutors have called off their 30-year battle to execute former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal for murdering a white police officer, putting to an end the racially charged case that became a major battleground in the fight over the death penalty.

Flanked by Maureen Faulkner, police Officer Daniel Faulkner’s widow, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced his decision Wednesday, 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.

“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 Mr. 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 convicted of fatally shooting Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981. He was sentenced to death after his trial the following year.

Abu-Jamal, who has been incarcerated in a western Pennsylvania prison, has garnered worldwide support from those who blame his conviction on racism.

The conviction was upheld through years of legal appeals. But a federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing after ruling the instructions given to the jury were potentially misleading.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the case in October. That forced prosecutors to decide if they wanted to again pursue the death penalty through a new sentencing hearing or accept a life sentence.

Mr. Williams said he reached the decision to drop the death-penalty bid with the blessing of Mrs. Faulkner, who said another sentencing hearing would undoubtedly be just the beginning of another long, arduous appeals process.

“Another penalty proceeding would open the case to the repetition of the state appeals process and an unknowable number of years of federal review again, even if we were successful,” Mr. Williams said.

He also said that after nearly three decades, some witnesses have died or are otherwise unreliable. Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, turned 58 earlier this year.

Mrs. Faulkner has tried to remain visible over the years to ensure that her husband is not forgotten. They were 25-year-old newlyweds when he died.

“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,” Mrs. Faulkner said Wednesday. “All of this has taken an unimaginable physical, emotional and financial toll on each of us.”

Mrs. Faulkner lashed out at the judges who overturned Abu-Jamal’s death sentence, calling them “dishonest cowards” who simply oppose the death penalty and work to undermine it.

“The disgusting reality with the death penalty in Pennsylvania is that the fix is in before the hearing even begins,” she said.

Widener University law professor Judith Ritter, who represented Abu-Jamal in recent appeals, applauded the decision.

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