Court: Mumia Abu-Jamal Should Get New Hearing Former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to die for killing a Philadelphia police officer. An appeals court now says that Abu-Jamal — who has spent almost 26 years on death row — must get a new sentencing hearing or be sentenced to life in prison.
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Court: Mumia Abu-Jamal Should Get New Hearing

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Court: Mumia Abu-Jamal Should Get New Hearing

Court: Mumia Abu-Jamal Should Get New Hearing

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. It's been almost 26 years since journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of murder. The jury gave Abu-Jamal the death penalty for the killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence and continued to fight his conviction. His case has become hotly contested, with a series of activist groups calling for his release and others who are just as adamant, saying he should be executed.

Late last week a federal appeals court says he deserved a new sentencing hearing but not a new trial. So what are the next legal moves? Soon we'll speak with Maureen Faulkner, the widow of slain police officer Daniel Faulkner. But first we've got Jeff Mackler. He's director of the Mobilization to free Mumia Abu-Jamal in Oakland, California. Jeff, welcome.

Mr. JEFF MACKLER (Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal): Glad to be with you, Farai. We can barely hear you, let's try.

CHIDEYA: All right. We'll do our best. We know there've been some technical problems with the line. So can you explain exactly what the court ruled last week?

Mr. MACKLER: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear the question. Please try one more time.

CHIDEYA: Jeff, can you explain the court's ruling?

Mr. MACKLER: Okay. Well, the court ruled on Thursday against Mumia Abu-Jamal on three critical questions. We consider these in the context of what we call the Mumia exception. Our first argument was that the jury that convicted Mumia in 1982 of murdering Daniel Faulkner, police officer, had from it excluded ten of 14 jurors who were empanelled, and we claim that that was a violation of a critical Supreme Court decision, Batson vs. Kentucky in 1986.

The court has subsequently upheld that decision, but this U.S. Court of Appeals, the Third Circuit decision essentially, if you could believe it, reversed the Supreme Court decision, and it included the decision of the Supreme Court in Batson that if you exclude even one black juror on the grounds of race, the result of the trial is null and void.

So this three-judge panel literally violated its own precedents and the precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court. I...

CHIDEYA: Jeff, let me ask, do you want at this point a whole new trial or are you satisfied with the idea of a new penalty hearing?

Mr. MACKLER: Are we satisfied with what?

CHIDEYA: The new penalty hearing only. Or do you want an entirely new trial?

Mr. MACKLER: We're going to appeal the full Circuit, that is the 11 judges to reverse their decision. We're confident that the decision of Judge Ambro, who was the minority out of the three, he was just the one vote, will be upheld, since that is the precedent of the full court in the Third Circuit and it's the precedent of the Supreme Court. So they had to come up with a contorted decision. We will be appealing all three issues, and if we lose there we'll go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

CHIDEYA: Why has this case been so controversial and so prominent?

Mr. MACKLER: Try that one more time please.

CHIDEYA: Why has this case been so controversial?

Mr. MACKLER: Well, from our point of view, Mumia Abu-Jamal, an award-winning journalist, has been on Death Row as an innocent man for 26 years for a murder he didn't commit. We have submitted a wealth of information, demonstrating over and over again that Mumia is an innocent man. And we simply object to the murder of an innocent man and we think that the reason for Mumia's persecution is because he was the leading critic of a - as a journalist, of a police department whose officers, many of whose officers were indicted, convicted and imprisoned for corruption, falsifying evidence, intimidation of witnesses and so on. And Mumia was punished in this case.

We now have proof positive that Mumia was an innocent man and that the prosecution's case was manufactured. So we want a brand new trial and that's what we were asking for. We lost that and we lost on three critical constitutional questions and we'll be appealing that and fighting for Mumia's very life. Whereas the state of Pennsylvania, they lost in their attempt to reverse a previous order. Pennsylvania seeks to execute Mumia and they are going to be appealing that too.

So to the same full court, the 11 judges, we only had a decision from three of them, so they are going to try to kill Mumia and we're going to try to win his freedom through a new trial.

CHIDEYA: Are there any protests planned?

Mr. MACKLER: Yes, we've already had a day-after protest in about 40 cities in the United States and across the world. But we are planning a major protest in Philadelphia on April 19th at 11 o'clock, and you can find out more about that by calling us at 510-268-9429 and...

CHIDEYA: Thank you so much, Jeff.

Mr. MACKLER: My pleasure.

CHIDEYA: Jeff Mackler is the director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal in Oakland, California. And now we turn to Maureen Faulkner. She is the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the Philadelphia police officer Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering in 1982. Maureen, thanks for coming on.

Ms. MAUREEN FAULKNER (Wife of Daniel Faulkner): Thank you for having me on.

CHIDEYA: So you just heard our conversation with Jeff Mackler. How does it make you feel when activists on his side keep pressing for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal?

Ms. FAULKNER: It emotionally upsets me for what Jeff Mackler has just said regarding the case. I was at the 1982 trial. If anyone wanted to know who murdered my husband Danny, it was me. And I believe that Mumia Abu-Jamal did receive a fair trial in 1982 and he was found guilty and he is guilty of murder. He is nothing but a cold-blooded murderer, and in 1995, '96, '97, '98, we had done - we'd gone through the Post-Conviction Relief Act hearings, any new evidence to come forth, to say that this man did not murder my husband, and it was all turned down.

The conviction has been upheld that Mumia was found at the scene of the crime, with - next to my husband. The police showed up 70 seconds after my husband was shot and the scene was frozen in place. And to this day, Mumia Abu-Jamal, nor his brother William Cook, has come forth and said what happened that night. They were there and they know what happened.

CHIDEYA: Now, there is a website for your husband, Danielfaulkner.com, and on it you released a statement that said that this decision lets your family say Abu-Jamal is officially a murderer. What do you mean that this decision in particular sort of validates the original conviction?

Ms. FAULKNER: Well, I think for years the defense has given false information and lies about this case and what happened the night Danny was murdered. And the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has said they are, they've upheld the conviction. They are saying that Mumia Abu-Jamal did murder my husband. However, they did open a small loophole which to me was very upsetting, and it's on a technicality of a jury form, regarding mitigating and aggravating circumstances that the judge, the jurors did not understand that mitigating would, did not have to be unanimous.

I was there in the courtroom. The jury was - they were very intelligent. If they had any questions, they would raise their hand and ask Judge Sabo the questions of - any questions they had. So I really believe they understood the jury form. But once again this case has not, does not have closure.

CHIDEYA: Maureen, what does closure mean to you? Would you like to at this point see Abu-Jamal executed? Would you like to see him spend his life on Death Row? It still leaves behind, no matter what happens, someone and many people will be dissatisfied with the outcome. What particularly do you want to see happen?

Ms. FAULKNER: I feel a jury back in 1982 sentenced Mumia Abu-Jamal to first degree murder and to the death penalty. And I just wanted the sentence carried out on what this jury had made the decision on. And since then the Faulkner family nor I have had any kind of closure. There's always something coming forth in a technicality with this case, where we have to endure the pain of not knowing what is going to ever happen with the case.

Now once again we may have to go back to a sentencing hearing, and it's been over a quarter of a century we have been dealing with this. And we want the courts to make a decision. And once they make the decision and they close this case, I'm sure the Faulkner family and I will have closure and we will be able to live with the decision of the courts. But we want closure.

CHIDEYA: Has anyone ever reached out to you from the side of Mumia's supporters? And one thing that comes up is that because your husband was a white police officer, because Mumia Abu-Jamal was a black activist, this is sometimes framed in racial lines. But there are people of different opinions and different races on both sides of this issue. Has anyone ever reached out to you and tried to start a dialogue with you about what's been going on these past 26 years?

Ms. FAULKNER: Yes. I've talked to several people about what has gone on over the past 26 years. And I personally think that many people make this a racial issue because Mumia Abu-Jamal was black and my husband was white. I personally feel that Mumia Abu-Jamal had a deep-seated hatred for police and I think he was out to murder a police officer - and this is my personal opinion - when he murdered my husband. And he did murder my husband. And I - I try, I do not take race into this. I really don't.

CHIDEYA: You wrote a book called "Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain and Injustice." What is the one thing you want to come across in that book?

Ms. FAULKNER: In this book is the story of my life and over the past 26 years what I have had to endure. I co-wrote the book with Michael Smerconish, who was wonderful enough to help me with the book. And what I want to portray is what victims and survivors go through year after year after year with the Appellate Court and how they have to endure going back into the court room and looking into the eyes of the person who harmed either them or their loved ones. We need to change our justice system. We need to streamline our justice system.

And really, the book was written about what survivors have to endure for years and years. And I must say, 100 percent of the proceeds we have given to a 501C3 for children whose parents have been murdered.

CHIDEYA: Well, Maureen...

Ms. FAULKNER: And it goes towards the children's education.

CHIDEYA: Maureen, thank you so much for sharing your time with us.

Ms. FAULKNER: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Maureen Faulkner is the widow of slain Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. She is also the co-author of the new book "Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain and Injustice," and she joined us from member station KCLU in Thousand Oaks, California.

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