from the New York Times
Condemned Killer Claims Innocence 25 Years Later
Published: December 23, 2006
Filed at 9:06 a.m. ET
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Condemned killer Mumia Abu-Jamal isn't getting his hopes up.
The former radio reporter who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia policeman in 1981 is appealing his death sentence on grounds that his lawyer Robert Bryan says offer his best chance yet of a new trial.
But the former Black Panther who has spent almost a quarter-century on Death Row for a crime he says he did not commit -- and become an international cause celebre for the anti-death penalty movement -- says he knows better than to pin his hopes on the latest twist in a long legal saga.
``I have learned over the years to not get into the prediction business, and I have learned that the hard way,'' he said in an exclusive interview with Reuters from a state prison near Waynesburg in western Pennsylvania.
His earlier hopes were dashed in 1989 when his attorneys went before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and returned full of optimism.
``They came back and reported to me, 'You got it, you won,' and of course I believed them. Obviously, that was not the case,'' the 52-year-old said.
Abu-Jamal, who is black, was convicted and sentenced to death in July 1982 for killing Daniel Faulkner, a white policeman, in Philadelphia on December 9, 1981.
He has maintained his innocence, saying he was framed in a city that had a reputation for police brutality and where he had antagonized officials with his reporting on alleged police corruption.
Critics including the Fraternal Order of Police argue that several eyewitnesses identified Abu-Jamal as the killer, that the bullet that killed the policeman was of the same type used in Abu-Jamal's gun and that Abu-Jamal confessed to the killing while recovering from his wounds, according to testimony of a hospital security guard.
``What more do you need?'' said Peter Wirs, a Philadelphia Republican whose local party branch recently filed a lawsuit against the mayor of Paris for making Abu-Jamal an honorary citizen of the city. ``It's an open-and-shut case.''
The city council in Paris made Abu-Jamal an honorary citizen, while Paris suburb St. Denis has named a street after him.
Abu-Jamal also has attracted support from Amnesty International, the European Parliament and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who say they believe he was a victim of police and judicial racism and deserves at least a new trial.
Among other evidence, his backers cite a statement by the now-deceased trial Judge Albert Sabo, who sentenced Abu-Jamal to death and who, according to court documents, was overheard saying, ``Yeah, and I'm going to help 'em fry the nigger.''
Wirs denied Sabo's statement indicates the trial was racially biased. ``He was just expressing the general sentiment of most Philadelphians. He was biased and prejudiced against criminals,'' he said.
Faulkner's widow, Maureen, could not be reached for comment. The Philadelphia District Attorney, whose office prosecuted Abu-Jamal, declined to comment because the case is under appeal.
In Abu-Jamal's latest appeal, expected to be heard in early 2007, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia will decide whether his trial was tainted by racial discrimination and whether he is entitled to a new trial.
For now, Abu-Jamal remains on Death Row because of appeals against another judge's lifting of the death sentence in 2001.
In a telephone interview lasting 15 minutes, the most allowed by prison authorities, Abu-Jamal said he lives a largely solitary life.
``The day can be encapsulated in the word 'isolation,''' he said. ``For 22 hours a day, you are in a cell by yourself. That's where you eat, that's where you sleep, that's where you do your ... bodily functions.''
The only possibility of contact with others is a two-hour exercise period at the maximum-security prison. But even that is often solitary during the winter because many inmates avoid the cold, he said.
In his cell, Abu-Jamal said he reads, writes columns on topics such as politics, the death penalty and the war in Iraq for a Web site run by his supporters and makes radio broadcasts for a San Francisco-based organization called Prison Radio.
Contact with his family is largely limited to phone calls because they live some 300 miles away in Philadelphia.
``My people are poor,'' he said. ``I don't see them often, maybe once or twice a year if we can manage it but sometimes not even that.''