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Judge Throws Out Mumia Abu-Jamal Death Sentence

By Steve Argue

Philadelphia, PA – Facing protest and international pressure in support of framed political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, federal judge William Yohn threw out his death sentence on Dec.18, 2001. Yohn ordered the state to conduct a new sentencing hearing within 180 days. If the state does not conduct a new hearing, Mumia will, according to Yohn's ruling, be sentenced to life in prison.

In earlier sentencing, Mumia had been given the death penalty, largely based on the prosecutor's argument that, as a member of the Black Panther Party, Mumia had been “waiting his whole life to kill a cop.” Judge Yohn's ruling, while possibly sparing Mumia the death penalty, did not overturn Mumia's conviction or grant him a new trial based on new proof of his innocence.

On Nov. 21, Philadelphia state judge Pamela Dembe also rejected Mumia Abu-Jamal's appeal to have new evidence heard in state court. Dembe's decision will be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Police Attack Protest

A 1000-person Philadelphia protest to free Mumia was attacked by the Philadelphia police on Dec. 8, 2001. The Philadelphia police have been campaigning for the execution of Mumia since they first framed him. They stepped up this campaign Dec. 8, when, without warning, police beat protesters, sending three people to the hospital. One of those beaten, Hai Au Huynh, a 100-pound Vietnamese woman, suffered a broken tailbone.

According to eyewitness accounts and video footage, dozens of police converged on the protest and attacked the crowd as police commanders looked on. Eight people were arrested. The total amount in bail was set at the outrageous amount of $350,000, which was subsequently met by supporters. Serious charges against Mumia supporters include the felonies of assault on a police officer, conspiracy to riot, and rioting. So far, the charges against two of the protesters have been dropped. The police have not been charged for their crimes.

New Evidence

New evidence, that both state and federal courts refuse to hear, includes the confession of Arnold Beverly, who states in his sworn affidavit, “I shot Faulkner at close range.” Faulkner was the cop Mumia is framed for killing. Eyewitness statements corroborate Arnold Beverly's confession.

In federal court, Judge Yohn ruled that Beverly's confession is inadmissible, citing the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996. The act, among other things, sets a time limit of one year for death row inmates to present new evidence. Yohn's chilling decision also cited the infamous 1993 Herrera decision that proof of innocence is no bar for execution.

A key ingredient missing in the prosecution's case against Mumia is a motive. Beverly's confession, however, does contain a clear motive. Beverly states, “I was hired, along with another guy, and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner. I had heard that Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity in the center city area.” The entire chain of police command that “investigated” Mumia has since been removed from the Philadelphia police force for corruption.

Attorney Eliot Grossman stated at a press conference, “Mumia Abu-Jamal was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a hit was in progress on a police officer.” But, for the Philadelphia police, Mumia was at the right place at the right time. He had exposed the murderous police violence used against the MOVE organization. Corrupt police officers used the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

What we do makes a difference. The government's attempt to murder Mumia Abu-Jamal in 1995 was halted by mass protests, days before it was scheduled to take place. Continued support for Mumia Abu-Jamal in the streets will be necessary to keep Mumia alive and to free him.

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