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.
Read more at the Washington Post.
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