By Emilie Lounsberry, Inquirer Staff Writer
Pennsylvania death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal has asked a federal appeals court to reconsider the decision that denied him a new trial in the 1981 slaying of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
In late March, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for 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.
In court papers docketed today, Robert R. Bryan, the San Francisco lawyer representing Abu-Jamal with Widener University law professor Judith Ritter, asked the three-judge panel and the full Third Circuit court to take another look.
They contended that the panel should have ordered a hearing on Abu-Jamal's 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, and said the majority "has backed away from this Circuit's historical commitment to equal justice for all."
The three-judge panel affirmed the December 2001 ruling by U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr., who had thrown out the death sentence after concluding 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.
Yohn found that the jury might have mistakenly believed it had to agree unanimously on any mitigating circumstances - factors that might have persuaded jurors 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 in the morning of Dec. 9, 1981.
While Abu-Jamal is appealing because he wants a new trial, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentence. Assistant District Attorney Hugh Burns said last month that no decision had been made on whether to ask the high court to consider the matter.
Abu-Jamal has written books and given taped speeches from death row, and his case has been followed in many parts of the world.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld his conviction and death sentence in 1989, and also rejected three other appeals - including one earlier this year.