New Opening and Danger in the Fight for Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolution #027, December 19, 2005, posted at

There are important new developments in the long struggle for justice and freedom for revolutionary political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on death row since his unjust conviction and sentencing in 1982 for the murder of a Philadelphia cop. On December 7, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia agreed to hear arguments on three separate defense claims of constitutional violations in Mumia's trial and state appeals. A decision by the Third Circuit to uphold any one of these claims could lead to a new trial for Mumia. So the Dec. 7 announcement opens a door for potential victory in Mumia's case.

At the same time, however, the Third Circuit is also considering the prosecution's appeal of a lower court ruling that overturned Mumia's death sentence--and there is a real danger that the Third Circuit Court could rule in prosecution's favor and reinstate the death penalty on Mumia. According to Mumia's lawyer, the court has put the case on a "fast track," and opening briefs are due to be filed by January 17, 2006.

In December 2001 federal judge William Yohn ruled that Judge Sabo's sentencing procedure was illegal and overturned Mumia's death sentence. But Yohn's ruling let the unjust conviction stand. And the Philadelphia DA appealed to get the death sentence reinstated. The Third Circuit Court could now rule in DA's favor and put Mumia back on the fast track to execution. All this calls for people to raise their vigilance around Mumia's case, and to step up the demand that Mumia not be killed and that the government free him.

The three defense claims that the Third Circuit agreed to consider are 1) that the prosecution illegally removed qualified Black jurrors; 2) that in his final summation the prosecutor violated Mumia's constitutional rights by telling the jury, "If you find the Defendant guilty of course, there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final."; 3) that the original judge in the case was biased against the defense.

Mumia, a journalist and a former leader in the Philadelphia Black Panther Party, was tried before the notorious pro-police Judge Albert Sabo, who had handed down more death sentences than any other judge in the U.S. The police and prosecution cooked up phony "evidence" and intimidated witnesses to testify against Mumia. Sabo denied Mumia's right to defend himself and forced on him an unprepared attorney that Mumia did not want. The prosecution worked to remove Black people from the jury and used political statements that Mumia made as a young Panther as an argument for the death penalty. Outrageous injustices have continued since the original trial as Mumia appealed his case.

In all these years on death row, Mumia has continued to stand firm and to speak out with a revolutionary voice on important questions in the U.S. and internationally. He is among the signers of the Call from The World Can't Wait--Drive Out the Bush Regime, and one of his recent radio broadcasts from death row was a defense of high school students in Los Angeles who walked out of school as part of the nationwide protests on Nov. 2--a commentary that was printed in last week's issue of Revolution (available online at

The case of Mumia concentrates key questions in society: the use of the death penalty as a tool of oppression, the criminalization of Black men, the gutting of defendants' rights, police brutality, the whole climate of repression and punishment against the oppressed.

In his ruling, Yohn had only certified one defense claim for appeal to the Third Circuit--the claim about the removal of Black jurors. Appellate courts are not required to hear arguments on defense claims that have not been certified by the lower court. The December 7 announcement by the Third Circuit has now expanded the grounds on which Mumia's unjust conviction can be overturned. But the prosecution's appeal means that the danger to Mumia's life is still very real.

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