PHILADELPHIA — Lawyers for Mumia Abu-Jamal said Wednesday they will ask a federal appeals court to grant him a new trial, expressing dismay that a judge upheld the former Black Panther’s 1982 conviction for murdering a police officer while throwing out his death sentence.
U.S. District Judge William Yohn on Tuesday found errors in the sentencing phase of the original trial and ordered Abu-Jamal, 47, to be resentenced within 180 days, or face life imprisonment.
But Yohn rejected 28 other defense claims, among them that the trial judge and jury were biased, evidence was suppressed, Abu-Jamal’s confession was fabricated and his lawyer was ineffective.
“This is a partial victory,” said defense attorney Michael Coard. “There were more glaring errors in the trial itself, not just in the sentencing.”
District Attorney Lynne Abraham is also preparing an appeal, calling the judge’s decision “legally flawed.”
The appeals will likely take years to resolve, prolonging a case that has been a touchstone in the international death penalty debate. Abu-Jamal’s writings on the justice system have gained him a worldwide following of celebrities, foreign politicians and death-penalty opponents, while police groups say he deserves to die.
If Abu-Jamal wins a new sentencing hearing, it will be nothing like the one conducted after his conviction for shooting Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981, prosecutors and defense attorneys said Wednesday.
In the first sentencing proceeding, only two witnesses testified. A police clerk confirmed Faulkner was employed as a police officer, an aggravating circumstance that allowed the jury to impose the death penalty. Abu-Jamal also took the stand during the one-day hearing, denouncing his lawyer as inadequate and the judge as a “black-robed conspirator” and a “hangman.”
A second hearing would likely take weeks. The new jury would have to be informed on the facts of the case; witnesses and evidence from the original trial could be presented to help jurors decide on a sentence of death or life imprisonment; and Abu-Jamal’s lawyers could try to introduce new evidence they say exonerates him, said Joseph McGill, who prosecuted Abu-Jamal in 1982.