A three-judge panel of the federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal—for the second time and this time unanimously. Previously, in 2008, this same court had ruled 2-1 that the death sentence on Mumia had been obtained by unconstitutional misleading instructions to the jury. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that finding and sent it back to the 3rd Circuit for reconsideration. But the 3rd Circuit has again ruled that the instructions used to get a death sentence voted on Mumia were blatantly and unconstitutionally illegal.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is perhaps the best known political prisoner in the world facing execution. He has now spent almost 30 years in isolation on death row, after being railroaded in a manifestly bogus trial. Yet despite mounds of new evidence in his case, the federal court system has refused to grant Mumia a new trial. As a revolutionary and a former Black Panther, he remains the special target of a ruling class vendetta bent on snuffing out his life as an example to all others who would refuse to bow down before the system.
Even if this newest decision is allowed to stand by the Supreme Court, the state of Pennsylvania would still have a chance to execute Mumia. The state has the option to convene a new jury and re-do the flawed penalty phase of his 1982 trial. That is, a new jury would be instructed that Mumia was found guilty of first degree murder and the only thing they are to decide is execution or life imprisonment. This constitutes an utter outrage, given what we know today about the original trial and all the exculpatory evidence that the jury was never allowed to see. In fact, Mumia himself was removed from the courtroom for much of his own trial because he righteously continued to object to the court’s refusal to allow him to act as his own attorney in place of a court appointed lawyer.
Although it occurs in this overall situation of flagrant injustice, the technical decision returned by the 3rd Circuit is an important one for prisoners in capital cases. This court continued to uphold a well-established principal of law that there should be no restrictions on what mitigating circumstances (things in the defendant’s favor) individual jurors can consider in a death sentence. In Mumia’s trial, a written verdict form presented to jurors clearly implied that jurors could only consider those mitigating circumstance that they all unanimously agreed would apply.
Because of the infamous Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (signed into law by Bill Clinton), Mumia can make no more appeals in the federal court system. But his legal team is pursuing a new appeal in the Pennsylvania state courts based on a report from the National Academy of Sciences that discredits the type of ballistic evidence that was presented in Mumia’s original trial.
A mass movement, reaching far and wide in society and around the world, was a crucial factor in stopping the rulers of this country from executing Mumia Abu-Jamal in the 1980s and '90s. It is ever more important that people must come together behind the demand to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
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For Revolution earlier coverage of Mumia's case go to:
Supreme Court Pushes Mumia Abu-Jamal a Step Closer to Execution
by C. Clark Kissinger
Revolution #190, January 31, 2010
Supreme Court Rejects Mumia Appeal
by C. Clark Kissinger
Revolution #162, April 19, 2009
New Developments in Ongoing Railroad of Mumia Abu-Jamal Revolution #138, August 3, 2008
Federal Appeals Court Continues the Mumia Railroad
Revolution #125, April 6, 2008