Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced Wednesday this office has called off their 30-year battle to execute former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal for allegedly murdering a white police officer, the Associated Press reports. The decision comes just two days short of the 30th anniversary of the killing.
“There’s never been any doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner. I believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers in 1982,” Williams, the city’s first black district attorney, told the AP. “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 where he belongs.”
Williams’ decision comes just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the case in October. However, that same month — citing a flaw in the jury’s instructions — the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia unanimously declared Abu-Jamal’s death sentence unconstitutional. The decision cleared the way for him to have a new jury decide whether he should be re-sentenced to death, or spend the rest of his life in prison.
District Attorney Williams said on Wednesday that he was not interested in a new trial because doing so would open the case to “an unknowable number of years” of appeals. He also said that after nearly three decades, some witnesses have died or are otherwise unreliable.
Supporters and advocates who argue Abu-Jamal is not guilty say Williams’ decision shouldn’t be a surprise.
“Now that it is clear that Mumia should never have been on death row in the first place, justice will not be served by relegating him to prison for the rest of his life—yet another form of death sentence. Based on even a minimal following of international human rights standards, Mumia must now be released,” South African activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a statement sent out by FreeMumia.com.
“I therefore join the call, and ask others to follow, asking District Attorney Seth Williams to rise to the challenge of reconciliation, human rights, and justice: drop this case now, and allow Mumia Abu-Jamal to be immediately released, with full time served,” Tutu continued.
“The news that the DA’s Office of Philadelphia is no longer seeking the death penalty for Mumia is no news to supporters of the nearly 30 year Pennsylvania Death Row prisoner,” Dr. Johanna Fernandez wrote in a statement to the Loop21.com. Fernandez is a U.S. History professor at Baruch College and an advocate who’s been working on Abu-Jamal’s case for several years.
“Because Mumia has for thirty years been subjected to torture on death row and because he is innocent, justice for Mumia will not be served by life imprisonment, but by his release from prison.”
Fernandez, who produced a documentary on Abu-Jamal, explains the conditions today of the Pennsylvania courts that found Abu-Jamal guilty and describes his prison cell. From Loop21.com:
We must remember that the same Pennsylvania courts that are being denounced today for the mass incarceration of juveniles are the same courts that framed Mumia. Pennsylvania has more juveniles serving life than any other state in the nation. The backdrop of constitutional violations in Mumia’s case include: routine corruption, evidence tampering, prosecutorial misconduct, judicial racism, discrimination in jury selection, and the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and Latinos. The issue of mass incarceration of black and Latino males is one of the gravest civil rights crises of our time.
We’re sobered by the realization that for 30 years an international movement kept Abu-Jamal alive long enough for the appeals process to run its course. But what if the movement hadn’t kept him alive? For 30 years Abu-Jamal has been forced to withstand tortured isolation in a windowless cell the size of a small bathroom. For thirty years the threat of execution has hung over his head, and he’s not been allowed to touch his children or his grandchildren, or his wife and siblings, or his friends.
Supporters of Abu-Jamal, including Princeton professor Cornel West and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have a symposium planned for Friday at the National Constitution Center for the man they call an “innocent revolutionary and celebrated journalist.”