By Emilie Lounsberry
Inquirer Staff Writer
Posted on Tue, Jul. 22, 2008:
A federal appeals court yesterday refused to reconsider the decision denying a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
In a two-page decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied Abu-Jamal's request for a rehearing of his appeal in the controversial case, which has helped fuel an international debate about the death penalty.
Abu-Jamal's lawyer, Robert R. Bryan of San Francisco, said he planned to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.
In March, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit left intact Abu-Jamal's conviction but said a new jury should decide whether he deserved death or should be sentenced to life behind bars.
Deputy District Attorney Ronald Eisenberg said no decision had been made on whether his office would ask the high court to reinstate the death sentence.
Abu-Jamal and his lawyers contend that the panel should have ordered a hearing on their contention that prosecutors intentionally excluded blacks from his jury in violation of a later 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
They noted that one of the panel members, Judge Thomas Ambro, wanted a hearing held on that issue, though he was in the minority on that issue.
All three members of the panel, which also included Chief Judge Anthony J. Scirica and Judge Robert E. Cowen, affirmed the December 2001 decision by U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr., who threw out the death sentence.
Yohn concluded that the jury might have been confused by the trial judge's instructions and wording on the verdict form filled out when the jury decided on death.
He found that the jury might have mistakenly believed it had to agree unanimously on any mitigating circumstances - factors that might have persuaded the jury to decide on a life sentence, rather than death.
Abu-Jamal, 54, has been on death row since his 1982 conviction in the killing of Faulkner, who was shot to death near 13th and Locust Streets early on Dec. 9, 1981.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence in 1989, and also rejected three other appeals.
Unless the nation's high court agrees to hear the case, Abu-Jamal most likely would face a new Philadelphia jury to decide only whether the penalty should be life or death. The high court hears only a tiny percentage of all petitions filed each year.
Contact staff writer Emilie Lounsberry at 215-854-4828 or firstname.lastname@example.org