PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The 3rd Circuit upheld the conviction but not the death sentence of former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, who shot and killed a white police officer in 1981 after the cop pulled over Abu-Jamal’s brother.
Abu-Jamal witnessed the traffic stop of his brother, William Cook, from a parking lot across the street. When he saw his brother struggling with Philadelphia Officer Daniel Faulkner, he ran toward the officer, drew his gun and shot him in the back. As Faulkner fell, he shot Abu-Jamal in the chest. Abu-Jamal then stood over Faulkner and fired four shots at close range, one of which hit Faulkner between the eyes and killed him.
When backup arrived, Abu-Jamal was arrested and taken to a hospital, where a security guard said she heard him repeat, “I shot the motherfucker, and I hope the motherfucker dies.”
Abu-Jamal was charged with first-degree murder and insisted on representing himself at trial. He was so “disruptive, uncooperative and hostile” that the trial judge ordered a back-up lawyer to take over as counsel.
The jury found Abu-Jamal guilty and sentenced him to death. After a series of appeals, evidentiary hearings and stays of execution, the appeals court agreed to let Abu-Jamal expand his appeal to argue that his constitutional rights had been violated when the prosecution used peremptory challenges to dismiss black jurors.
The defendant cited Batson v. Kentucky, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges during jury selection violates equal protection. But the appellate court said it could not find for Abu-Jamal on his Batson claim, because it lacked the complete statistical data.
The court rejected Abu-Jamal’s remaining claims, including his allegations of judicial bias and improper comments during the prosecution’s closing statements.
The appellate judges refused to reinstate the death penalty, however, because they found a “reasonable likelihood” that the jury did not understand how to weigh mitigating circumstances when it sentenced the defendant.
Judge Ambro dissented in part, saying Abu-Jamal had made a convincing case for racial discrimination during jury selection.