U.S. News

U.S. court sends back Abu-Jamal death penalty case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday granted an appeal by prosecutors and set aside a ruling that invalidated the death sentence of black political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.

Protestors march outside the federal courthouse during the appeal of convicted murderer Mumia Abu Jamal in Philadelphia, May 17, 2007. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

His case has become a prominent cause for many death penalty opponents.

In a brief order, the Supreme Court sent the case back to a U.S. appeals court based in Philadelphia for further consideration in view of the high court’s recent decision in an Ohio case that had raised similar issues.

The Supreme Court in the Ohio case unanimously reinstated the death sentence of a neo-Nazi convicted of murdering three men. The court’s action, which was not a ruling on the merits of the case, could lead to Abu-Jamal’s death sentence being reinstated, too.

The appeals court had ruled that Abu-Jamal, 55, deserved a new sentencing hearing because of flawed jury instructions.

Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panthers militant group, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for murdering white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in an early morning confrontation on December 9, 1981.

The officer was shot after stopping Abu-Jamal’s brother for driving the wrong way down a Philadelphia street. Abu-Jamal, a former radio reporter who was arrested at the scene, has maintained his innocence.

Abu-Jamal’s jailhouse writings about the justice system have drawn the attention of many people around the world. His case attracted the support of many death penalty opponents, foreign political leaders and Hollywood celebrities.

The flaw in the jury instructions related to whether the jurors understood how to weigh mitigating circumstances that could have resulted in a sentence other than the death penalty. Under the law, jurors did not have to agree unanimously on the mitigating circumstances.

Prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court the part of the appeals court decision that invalidated Abu-Jamal’s death sentence. The Supreme Court last year let stand the part of the decision that upheld Abu-Jamal’s murder conviction.

Editing by Will Dunham