The Militant (logo) 
   Vol.66/No.1            January 7, 2002 
Judge lifts death sentence in case of
Mumia Abu-Jamal, denies new trial
(feature article)
PHILADELPHIA--U.S. District Judge William Yohn Jr. issued a ruling December 18 lifting the death sentence on Mumia Abu-Jamal, a longtime Black rights activist framed up in 1981 on charges of murdering a Philadelphia cop.

Judge John's 270-page ruling also denied Abu-Jamal's efforts to win a new trial. Backed by an international defense campaign, Abu-Jamal has been fighting to overturn his conviction and win his freedom. His lawyers had appealed his conviction, arguing that he was the victim of a racist court system, a biased judge, and court rulings that denied him a fair trial. In addition, they had presented to the judge a new affidavit from Arnold Beverly, who states that he was the one who killed the police officer.

The judge ruled that the sentencing hearing that led to the death penalty being imposed on Abu-Jamal after his trial violated his constitutional rights. He found that the judge who presided over Abu-Jamal's trial, Albert Sabo, had improperly told the jurors that they had to rule unanimously. This made it impossible for individual jurors to consider "mitigating circumstances" that would lead them to vote to keep Abu-Jamal from being put to death.

Cops and supporters of the death penalty berated the judge's decision. Richard Costello, president of the Fraternal Order of Police in Philadelphia, called the ruling "bizarre" and "a miscarriage of justice." Lynne Abraham, Philadelphia district attorney and noted proponent of the death penalty, called the judge's argument "unsupportable" and said that she would appeal the ruling.

The judge ruled that Abu-Jamal's death sentence be set aside and gave the prosecutors 180 days to either file a motion for a new sentencing hearing or let Abu-Jamal's sentence become life in prison.

Supporters of Abu-Jamal applauded the judge's ruling for setting aside the death penalty. J. Michael Farrell, Abu-Jamal's attorney in Philadelphia, said that the judge "has saved a life that never should have been at risk in the first place."

Philadelphia civil liberties attorney David Kairys explained that the ruling helps defend everyone's rights. "They're not technicalities," he said, "they really go to the heart of whether the jury meant to impose the death penalty or not."

At the same time, Abu-Jamal's supporters and attorneys immediately announced their intention to appeal the judge's refusal to grant Abu-Jamal a new trial. "Mumia is innocent," said Pam Africa, a central leader of the Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, "and we want him released."
Related article:
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home