Former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal won't face death penalty
Former Black Panther and convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal will be spared the death penalty, the Philadelphia district attorney announced Wednesday, bringing a quiet end to a racially charged case that spanned 30 years.
Seth Williams, the city’s top prosecutor, said Abu-Jamal will spend the rest of his life in prison. He said the “decision to end this fight [over a death sentence] was not an easy one to make” and that he remained convinced that Abu-Jamal was guilty as charged and deserved to die for his crimes.
But he said he also had concluded that prosecutors could not likely win another death sentence for the now 57-year-old convicted murderer in the face of steady opposition from the federal courts. And he said he did not want to put the widow of slain officer Daniel Faulkner through the ordeal of another sentencing hearing.
“The survivors of Officer Faulkner have suffered enough, and the best remaining option is to allow his murderer to die in prison,” the district attorney said in a statement.
On Dec. 9, 1981, Faulkner stopped a car driven by William Cook, Abu-Jamal’s young brother. Seated in a taxi nearby, Abu-Jamal saw what happened and ran to the scene. Witnesses said he exchanged gunfire with the officer, who was hit multiple times and died at a hospital. Abu-Jamal was arrested at the scene, and his revolver was found next to him.
A radio reporter and a black activist, Abu-Jamal had been a fierce critic of the police, and his trial, conviction and death sentence turned his case into an international cause celebre. Supporters asserted he had been framed by the police.
But over many years and multiple appeals, state and federal courts upheld his guilt for the murder. Federal judges, however, questioned the process that led to his death sentence. Ten years ago, a federal judge said the jury may have been confused over whether it could grant leniency, and the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia affirmed that decision in several rulings.
In October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the district attorney’s appeal, leaving Williams the option of convening a new jury to weigh a death sentence or accepting the lesser sentence of life in prison without parole for Abu-Jamal. Williams said he had decided on the latter.
“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 exactly where he belongs,” he said.
Maureen Faulkner said she accepted the decision reluctantly.
“My family and I have endured a three-decade ordeal at the hands of Mumia Abu-Jamal, his attorneys and his supporters,” she said. “After 30 years of waiting, the time remaining before Abu-Jamal stands before his ultimate judge doesn’t quite seem so far off as it once did when I was younger. I look forward to that day.”
Photo: Mumia Abu-Jamal leaves Philadelphia's City Hall after a 1995 hearing. Credit: Chris Gardner / Associated Press