Many of you may have seen the national press coverage of a recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Mumia abu-Jamal. As members of the RFC community you probably know I have been involved in the effort to save Mumia’s life since the mid 1990’s. I consider him the first political prisoner to face execution in the United States since my parents. I wrote about his case in my book, An Execution in the Family, starting on page 227. I do not have the space to revisit the details here, but I believe that Mumia never received a fair trial and is, therefore, entitled to the presumption of innocence.
Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court’s decision was bad. The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld a ruling by Federal District Court Judge Yohn in which he found that the sentencing portion of Mumia’s state trial in 1982 was flawed and that, therefore, Mumia was entitled to a new trial on the penalty phase of his case. The Justices of the Supreme Court disagreed, and ordered the Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision. In plain English, it looked like the Supreme Court was instructing the Appeals Court to reverse Judge Yohn’s decision that had thrown out Mumia’s death sentence.
While this is a step in the wrong direction, Mumia does not face imminent execution as some of his supporters mistakenly have claimed. Despite this new ruling in Mumia’s case, which has now been going on for more than 27 years, remains a procedural Gordian knot.
Mumia was sentenced to death in Pennsylvania State Court and had to exhaust all his State Court appeals, before he could appeal to the Federal Courts. In 2001, Federal District Court Judge Yohn, denied many of Mumia’s claims for a new trial, but he did not rule on four other attacks Mumia’s attorneys made on his death sentence because he voided the death sentence on other grounds. Therefore, if the Third Circuit reinstates Mumia’s death sentence, Mumia’s attorneys will then have the right to ask the District Court to rule on the four claims it chose not to address in 2001.
Although those claims appear strong, it is impossible to predict how the District Court will rule. However, those rulings will lead to further appeals.
Of course, I’m glad that Mumia execution is not about to happen. But I take little comfort from the fact that he continues to rot in hellish solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row as the years of his life tick slowly away.
I do not know what happened in the middle of that November night in 1982 when Mumia is supposed to have killed a policeman in cold blood. I have read the trial transcript, however, a task I was trained to do as a law clerk for a Massachusetts Appeals Court Justice, and know that he did not receive a fair trial. I have also read a number of investigative books about Mumia’s case and am convinced that the prosecution’s version of what took place that night is not credible.
Mumia’s imprisonment is an injustice that has gone on for far too long. Legal work, coupled with worldwide protests, have prolonged his life for decades. We must not get tired, we must continue the struggle. For Mumia not only deserves to live, he deserves to be free.
For a more in-depth analysis see: David Lindorff: Mumia Abu-Jamal Case is Stuck in Hellish Limbo http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/?q=node/468
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