Jan 7, 2002
U.S. District Court Judge William Yohn Jr. ruled on December 18 that the penalty phase of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s trial was wrongly handled. He then concluded that the state of Pennsylvania needs to convene a new jury to decide sentence. This jury can look at evidence concerning what happened, in order to decide the sentence.
If the state chooses not to do this within 180 days, then Mumia would be sentenced to life in prison.
This doesn’t mean that the threat of a death sentence is completely removed. The prosecutors in Philadelphia said they will appeal Judge Yohn’s decision to the U.S. Appeals Court, where the death penalty could be reimposed. Or the new jury could also reimpose the death penalty.
Nor does it mean that justice is being done. Mumia has already spent 20 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. And there is no indication he will get another trial, much less be freed.
Nonetheless, this is the first time since former Black Panther Mumia was framed up in 1981, on charges he killed a Philadelphia cop, that a court has thrown out part of the results of his original trial.
This ruling – highly unusual at this stage – reflects the pressure being brought by protests in this country and especially abroad. These protests have thrown a spotlight on this country’s truly horrible “justice” system, including its reliance on the death penalty. This barbaric practice has been outlawed by civilized countries around the world.
It would be a mistake if the movement were to step back in the false belief that Mumia no longer faces the death penalty. It is essential that the campaign continue, for Mumia still faces possible execution for a crime he didn’t commit.
And because life in prison is also a gross injustice.