The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from the Philadelphia district attorney’s office in the racially charged case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, bringing an end to nearly 30 years of litigation over the fairness of the sentencing hearing that resulted in his death sentence for the 1981 shooting of a police officer, the Washington Post reports.
While his case has been famous among anti-death penalty activists and social-justice advocates for decades, this new development is no doubt even more poignant for many in light of the recent execution of Troy Davis.
Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, has spent almost 30 years on death row after being convincted in 1982 for killing Daniel Faulkner.
A federal appeals court this year upheld his conviction but agreed that the jury received potentially misleading death penalty instructions, and ordered a new sentencing hearing. Because the Supreme Court has left in place that ruling, Abu-Jamal will now be automatically sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole unless the district attorney seeks another death sentence from a new jury.
The Supreme Court’s decision represents the fourth time that a federal court has found that Abu-Jamal’s sentencing jury was misled about the constitutionally mandated process for considering evidence supporting a life sentence.
“At long last, the profoundly troubling prospect of Mr. Abu-Jamal facing an execution that was produced by an unfair and unreliable penalty phase has been eliminated,” said John Payton, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which, along with professor Judith Ritter, represents Abu-Jamal.
Ritter said, “Our system should never condone an execution that stems from a trial in which the jury was improperly instructed on the law.”
The case will now return to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas for final sentencing.