Death sentence lifted for time being against Black Panther
Mar 27, 2008, 18:48 GMT
Washington - A federal appeals court Thursday upheld a lower court decision to suspend the death sentence against Black Panther member Mumia Abu-Jamal.
But the three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit left open the possibility of another jury trial which would rule only on the sentencing issue - either death or life in prison, the Philadelphia Inquirer daily newspaper reported online.
If the added trial does not take place, then Abu-Jamal must be sentenced to life in prison, the court ruled.
The case involves the high profile militant black activist Abu- Jamal, who was convicted in 1982 by a Philadelphia jury of killing a Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner, in December 1981.
The Philadelphia jury sentenced him to death, and he has been on death row since then. But the sentence has been delayed by various appeals.
In 2001, US District Judge William Yohn rejected most of Abu- Jamal's legal appeals, but threw out the 1982 jury death sentence because the jury may have not properly understood that it could also have issued a life-in-prison sentence.
Abu-Jamal has become he cause celebre of international rights groups, who charge he was innocent and victimized by a racist system of justice. His lawyers have appealed that the prosecution unfairly excluded blacks from his original jury in violation of a later Supreme Court ruling from 1986.
Only one member of the three-judge panel on Thursday argued that the issue of race and jury selection should also be considered anew.
Judge Thomas L Ambro wrote that such a move would not have opened 'the jailhouse doors' or overturned the conviction, but would have at least allowed the issue of race to be considered.
Abu-Jamal's lawyer, Robert Bryan of San Francisco, was pleased that the death sentence was not reinstated, but was disappointed that the race issue in jury selection was not considered.
The appeals court said the state must hold a new sentencing hearing within six months or sentence Abu-Jamal to life in prison.