PHILDADELPHIA (CN) – The 3rd Circuit on Tuesday refused to back down from its finding to let death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal appeal his sentence for killing a Philadelphia cop in 1981 during a late-night traffic stop.
Last year, the Supreme Court vacated the circuit’s first finding that the former Black Panther member was entitled to habeas relief based on flawed jury instructions. On remand, a three-judge panel said it stood by its earlier findings.
Abu-Jamal, a former radio reporter born Wesley Cook, has been on death row since 1982. He was convicted of first-degree murder in connection to the murder of Daniel Faulkner, a white cop who pulled over Abu-Jamal’s brother for an alleged traffic violation.
Evidence showed that Abu-Jamal watched from an adjacent parking lot as his brother, William Cook, struggled with Faulkner. Abu-Jamal ran toward the altercation, drew his gun and shot Faulkner in the back. Faulkner shot Abu-Jamal in the chest as he fell. Abu-Jamal then stood over Faulkner and fired four shots at close range, one of which hit Faulkner between the eyes and killed him.
Backup officers arrested Abu-Jamal and took him to a hospital, where a security guard said she heard the wounded assailant repeat, “I shot the motherfucker, and I hope the motherfucker dies.”
At trial, Abu-Jamal was so “disruptive, uncooperative and hostile” that the trial judge ordered a backup lawyer to take over as counsel, according to court documents.
After a series of appeals, evidentiary hearings and stays of execution, Abu-Jamal was barred from contesting his conviction. A federal judge let challenge the death-penalty sentence, however, and the 3rd Circuit affirmed. Pennsylvania appealed the finding to the high court, which ordered the circuit to reconsider its decision in light of Smith v. Spisak. One week earlier, the justices reinstated the death sentence of Spisak, an Ohio neo-Nazi convicted of killing three people and trying to kill two others at Cleveland State University in 1982.
Judge Anthony Scirica said Tuesday that the court’s earlier decision is consistent with Spisak, and necessary since a violation of Mills v. Maryland occurred. In Mills, the Supreme Court vacated a death sentence because of inadequate jury instructions.
“We conclude the verdict form and jury instructions in this case likewise created a substantial probability the jury believed it was precluded from finding a mitigating circumstance that had not been unanimously agreed upon,” Scirica wrote. “We conclude the verdict form together with the jury instructions read that unanimity was required in the consideration of mitigating circumstances and that there is a substantial probability the jurors believed they were precluded from independent consideration of mitigating circumstances in violation of Mills.”
Apparent ambiguity supports the argument that the jurors were prevented from considering less severe penalties than the death sentence, according to the 32-page ruling.