Jennifer E. Beach, File/AP
Mumia Abu-Jamal

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal for Abu-Jamal

October 09, 2008 12:25 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Mumia Abu-Jamal, who gained international attention for his conviction and death sentence in the case of a police officer’s murder in 1981, will not be getting a new trial.

Abu-Jamal Denied Request

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal’s request for a new trial in the killing of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner, according to MSNBC.

CNN said the decision was made on Monday, when Chief Justice John Roberts opened the Court’s October term and rejected more than 2,000 pending appeals.

Former Black Panther Abu-Jamal, a 54-year-old former reporter and cab driver, has become a celebrated and controversial figure since his conviction. He maintains that prosecutorial misconduct played a role in his trial, as well as racism, as Abu-Jamal is black and Faulkner was white. To his supporters, including prominent movie actors and musicians, he is a passionate writer and activist and political prisoner. But his critics, according to Time magazine, say there is overwhelming evidence that points to his guilt and that he has improperly used race to escape blame for his crime.

Abu-Jamal will, however, be undergoing a new sentencing hearing previously ordered by a federal appeals court that will determine whether he will be given the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Background: ‘Mumia on Their Mind’

On Dec. 9, 1981, Faulkner stopped Abu-Jamal’s brother, William Cook, for going the wrong way down a one-way street. When Faulkner tried to handcuff Cook, the prosecution says that Abu-Jamal, who had been working in the area as a taxi driver, shot him in the back, and an altercation followed during which Abu-Jamal was shot in the chest. At the trial in 1982, three eyewitnesses testified on behalf of the prosecution, according to Time.

The defense, however, claimed that some witnesses saw a different man, larger than Abu-Jamal, shoot at Faulkner. Some also criticized the judge, Albert Sabo, for not allowing Abu-Jamal to represent himself and appointing him what they say was an inadequate attorney, and for agreeing to a jury made up of mostly whites in a city that is 40 percent black.

Key Players: Mumia Abu-Jamal, Daniel Faulkner

Mumia Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, worked as a journalist and taxi driver in Philadelphia before his trial in 1982. His reporting work for news outlets such as NPR and the Philadelphia station WHAT focused on police brutality and issues involving race in his community. He also served as president of the Association of Black Journalists, and was a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. Following his trial, he became an international celebrity as supporters around the world, including prominent actors and musicians, took up his cause.

Daniel Faulkner
became an officer for the Philadelphia Police Department in 1975. Raised on the southwest side of Philadelphia, he was the youngest of seven children in an Irish-Catholic family. Prior to starting a career in law enforcement, he served in the U.S. Army. He married Maureen Faulkner in 1979 and was a local leader in the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Opinion & Analysis: ‘A Life in the Balance’

Abu-Jamal’s trial “failed to meet international standards,” comments Amnesty International in an analysis of the event. The group posits that the atmosphere of Philadelphia in 1982 and political influences may have affected the outcome of the trial and prevented Abu-Jamal from receiving a fair and unbiased trial.

Maureen Faulkner, however, contends in a letter to The Village Voice, that there is “no credible evidence or testimony” to back up the claim that Abu-Jamal was innocent. In 1998, after a three-year review of the case, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania “unanimously confirmed the fairness of the trial proceedings and the appropriateness of Judge Albert Sabo’s conduct when he tried to maintain order in his courtroom during the relentless and contemptuous temper tantrums and disruptions by Abu-Jamal.”

The New York Times wrote in 1995 that “Given the utter finality of capital punishment, Abu-Jamal’s lawyers have no choice but to fight hard for a new trial. But opponents of the death penalty who have jumped to his defense should recognize the possibility that Abu-Jamal is not the innocent man they depict.”

Video Link: Death row interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal

Related Topic: Capital Punishment

In April, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of lethal injections in Kentucky did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and usual punishment. In the Court’s 7–2  ruling against, it said that lethal injection does not have “substantial risk of serious harm.” Many states that had suspended the death penalty pending the court’s decision reconsidered resuming the death penalty after the decision.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of the death penalty was unconstitutional in child rape cases, overturning a prior ruling by the Louisiana high court that besides first-degree murder, no crime was more deserving of the punishment.

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