Struggle overturns death sentence

Next step: Free Mumia!

By Monica Moorehead
and Larry Holmes

U.S. Federal District Judge William Yohn, in a 272-page ruling issued on Dec. 18, threw out the death sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal that resulted from his 1982 trial. But Yohn upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction on charges that he shot Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

There can be no question that lifting the 1982 death sentence--a concession wrested by the worldwide movement in support of Abu-Jamal--is a painful, bitter pill for the cops and judges in the court system in Philadelphia to swallow. They want to kill Abu-Jamal. And had it not been for the movement, he would be dead.

The continued frame-up of Abu-Jamal has generated massive rallies, marches and direct actions--from San Francisco to Paris. For years demonstrations in the U.S. and around the world have demanded freedom for this gifted Black journalist who has never stopped being the "voice of the voiceless." And twice, mass protests stopped the clock at the 11th hour when Abu-Jamal was to have been executed.

Yohn's ruling comes on the heels of a Dec. 8 police attack on a peaceful march of more than 1,000 in Philadelphia calling for justice in Abu-Jamal's case. Several activists were injured in the cop riot and six face multiple felony charges.

Across the U.S. and all over the world Abu-Jamal is renowned as a political prisoner, framed up on a murder charge because of his political beliefs. In fact, a man named Arnold Beverly has confessed on videotape that he--not Abu-Jamal--shot Faulkner. Yet Beverly's testimony has not been heard in a court and Abu-Jamal remains on death row.

Judge Yohn was assigned to Abu-Jamal's case in October 1999. He was charged with determining whether Abu-Jamal should have an evidentiary hearing. Such a hearing would have allowed suppressed evidence to finally be heard and entered into court record that could prove Abu-Jamal's innocence. This would have included the Beverly confession and the testimony of witnesses who describe being coerced by police to lie for the prosecution in the initial trial.

But Yohn's ruling denies Abu-Jamal the right to any evidentiary hearing. And the judge's decision ignores the fact that police and prosecutorial misconduct at the 1982 trial was so blatant that it obliterated the possibility of any kind of fair trial for Abu-Jamal. It doesn't overturn the unjust first-degree murder conviction. And it doesn't open the door for long-suppressed evidence to be heard.

Yohn threw out the death sentence based on his findings that instructions to the 1982 jury were flawed. The judge concluded that information was withheld from the jury that could have led to a different sentence.

According to a Dec. 18 Associated Press report, Yohn ordered the state of Pennsylvania to conduct a re-sentencing hearing within 180 days. A re-sentencing hearing could result in life imprisonment for Abu-Jamal. Or it could impose the death penalty again.

An appeal by either the prosecution or the defense, however, could lead to an overturning of Yohn's decision.

Abu-Jamal's lawyers plan to seek a new trial for Abu-Jamal. They are appealing Judge Yohn's ruling to a federal appeals court (Associated Press, Dec. 19). Philadelphia District Attorney Lynn Abraham said her office would appeal the lifting of the death sentence.

The dangerous part of Judge Yohn's decision is that it no doubt will be used in an attempt to close the book on Abu-Jamal's case. It aims to cover up the sham trial in 1982 and the conspiracy to suppress evidence that could have proved his innocence, and to keep Abu-Jamal in jail for the rest of his life.

The unyielding movement to save Abu-Jamal's life has exerted pressure on the legal and political institutions of racist repression that have been trying to legally lynch Abu-Jamal because of his revolutionary, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist beliefs.

Progressive and revolutionary forces and the working-class movement have to fight hard to make sure that Mumia Abu-Jamal's case remains open legally and politically and that he wins his freedom. The struggle to save Abu-Jamal's life and win his release from prison is in essence a battle against the racist, capitalist courts and the prison industrial complex. And every worker and oppressed person will be affected by the outcome.

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