Federal judge throws out death sentence
By Elizabeth Schulte | January 4, 2002 | Page 2
FEDERAL JUDGE William Yohn overturned the death sentence of Pennsylvania political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal on December 18.
Mumia--a radio journalist, former Black Panther and outspoken critic of police brutality--has spent 20 years on death row after being framed for the 1981 shooting of white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Yohn ruled that Albert Sabo, the notoriously racist judge who presided over Mumia's trial, gave improper instructions to the jury during the sentencing hearing. This is the first time a court has recognized that there was anything wrong in Mumia's case.
But while Mumia's death sentence was thrown out, Yohn upheld his murder conviction--despite a mountain of evidence that Mumia didn't get a fair trial.
For example, several of the prosecution's "eyewitnesses" have recanted their testimonies. And Mumia's lawyers have uncovered new evidence of his innocence--a videotaped confession by a man who says he shot Faulkner.
But Yohn dismissed all but the most minor point of Mumia's appeal--and refused to even hear the new evidence.
Prosecutors are under orders to hold a new sentencing hearing for Mumia in the next 180 days. But they have already filed a notice of appeal, which means the re-sentencing will be delayed.
Though Mumia's death sentence may be lifted, Yohn's ruling will make it more difficult for Mumia to prove his innocence. But that didn't stop those who want to see Mumia killed--like the Fraternal Order of Police and Faulkner's widow Maureen--from denouncing Yohn's decision.
Clearly, Yohn felt the pressure of anti-death penalty activists who have long fought for Mumia's freedom. International outcry and protest stopped Mumia from going to the execution chamber in 1995 and 1999.
With a resentencing hearing pending and a new appeals underway, Mumia's case will reenter the spotlight in the coming months. We need to use this opportunity to organize against prosecutors' efforts to get Mumia resentenced to death--and to build the fight to win his freedom.