Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose conviction in the slaying of a Philadelphia police officer became a major battleground of the 20th century’s racial divide, has lost his latest appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In an order dated March 26, the state high court announced that it was affirming a lower court order in the case; the lower court had rejected Abu-Jamal’s complaint that some aspects, including forensic evidence, were unfairly handled.
Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and radio journalist, was convicted of the 1981 fatal shooting of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The officer had stopped a car driven by Abu-Jamal’s younger brother; Abu-Jamal was in another car at the time and ran to the scene. Gunfire was exchanged, and Faulkner died.
Abu-Jamal’s supporters have maintained that he was mistakenly convicted because he’s an African American, pointing to the era’s racial tensions and noting that police and radical activists were facing off at the time. In the ensuing three decades, supporters -- particularly on college campuses and among human rights groups -- have urged that the case be revisited and that Abu-Jamal be freed.
The case also took on a legal life of its own, spreading through state and federal court systems. Abu-Jamal spent 30 years on death row, surviving at least two execution dates in 1995 and 1999.
Last April, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed its prior decision to vacate Abu-Jamal’s death sentence on the grounds that the jury instructions and verdict form were ambiguous and confusing.
On Dec. 7, 2011, Philadelphia Dist. Atty. R. Seth Williams announced that prosecutors would no longer seek the death penalty for Abu-Jamal.
Abu-Jamal is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.