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Prosecutors Drop Pursuit of Death Penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal
December 7, 2011
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Mumia Abu-Jamal is no longer facing execution.

Prosecutors today announced that they will not pursue the death penalty for the man convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, though he will remain behind bars serving a life sentence.

Abu-Jamal, a former journalist, cab driver and Black Panther born Wesley Cook, has been the subject of a sustained campaign to overturn his death sentence, based on the notion that he was the victim of a racially-biased system of justice. In the nearly 30 years since his conviction for murder, Abu-Jamal has been serving time in a Pennsylvania prison, while a series of legal challenges were launched to overturn his sentence. None were successful, but last April a U.S. federal appeals court said that the death penalty was unconstitutional, and that jury instructions at his initial trial were unclear.

Today, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said that continuing to push for the death penalty would open the case for "an unknowable number of years of federal review," and that this process would only become more difficult as time passed.

However, Williams also said he had no doubts that "Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner. I believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers in 1982. While Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing the death penalty, he will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, and that is where he belongs."

That Williams is Philadelphia's first black D.A. is not an insignificant detail in the saga. The case involves the murder of a white officer by a black man, and the debate over Mumia's fate has long turned on racial politics in the U.S.

Williams was accompanied in his announcement today by Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the killed officer. She was a 25-year-old newlywed when her husband was murdered.

"My family and I have endured a three-decade ordeal at the hands of Mumia Abu-Jamal, his attorneys and his supporters, who in many cases never even took the time to educate themselves about the case before lending their names, giving their support and advocating for his freedom," she said.

On December 9, 1981, Faulkner pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother at a traffic stop. A scuffle ensued, and police found Abu-Jamal at the scene wounded by shots from Faulkner's gun. The officer himself was dead, having been shot several times.

Since being convicted for Faulkner's murder, Abu-Jamal worked from behind bars to overturn his sentence, with a particular emphasis on procedural errors and evidence of racial bias against him. He wrote pieces and made radio broadcasts on the subject that reached a wide array of followers, and his 1995 book Live From Death Row only increased his profile.

The Free Mumia movement garnered the support of a large amount of people concerned with perceived racism in the U.S. justice system, and benefited from a number of high-profile activists. Actors Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin and Mike Farrell are just some of the celebrities who have thrown their public support behind a retrial, and the Beastie Boys played a concert to raise money for his legal fund.

The case also had a lot of followers in the hip hop community, starting with rapper KRS-One, who included the track "Free Mumia" with Channel Live on his 1995 self-titled album.

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