News: A Victory for Mumia
Add this to the category, "Appalling Judicial Developments."
In a major development in the 24-year-old death penalty case of Philadelphia journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, a panel of three judges of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling Tuesday that Abu-Jamal can appeal his murder conviction on three separate grounds.
The court put the case, which has been in legal limbo for several years, on a "fast track," with the defense brief on the three claims scheduled to be filed Jan. 17.
The first grounds is a claim by Abu-Jamal that the jury selection in his case had been racially biased because the prosecutor rejected 10 or 11 of 15 qualified black jurors, using peremptory challenges, for which no reason had to be given. The jury that ultimately convicted Abu-Jamal had only two black members, in a city that is 44 percent black.
The second is a claim the prosecutor in the case, Joseph McGill, had improperly attempted to reduce jurors' sense of responsibility during the so-called guilt phase of the trial, by telling them that any guilty verdict would be vetted later. As McGill put it in his trial summation, "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." In other Pennsylvania cases, including one prosecuted by McGill, the 3rd Circuit has overturned capital-case convictions on the basis of the same wording used in trial summations.
The third a claim that the trial judge, the late Albert Sabo, was biased during the Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing. That hearing, which was held in 1995-96 to consider the validity of the facts presented at trial, as well as new evidence brought in by the defense, was controversial. At the time, the Philadelphia Inquirer stated in an editorial that the judge was displaying overt bias against Abu-Jamal.
Any one of the three claims, if upheld by the 3rd Circuit next year, could lead to a new trial for Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of the 1981 slaying of white police officer Daniel Faulkner. The most likely first action on upholding an appeal claim, however, would be an order sending the issue back to federal Judge Yohn for reconsideration, not an order for a new trial. A finding of bias on the part of Sabo could also lead to a reopening of the post-conviction hearing in a state court, legal experts say.