2 May 2011. A World to Win News Service. An appeals court in the U.S. has reaffirmed its earlier ruling that the death sentence against Mumia Abu-Jamal is unconstitutional.
Mumia, a former Black Panther Party member, has been held in solitary confinement on death row for almost three decades since he was convicted of the 1981 killing of a policeman in the city of Philadelphia. The judge at that trial was overheard to say that he was going to help the police "fry the ni*ger." Mumia appealed his conviction to the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear his case, thus effectively ending his ability to win a new trial. When an appeals court set aside the death penalty verdict in his case two years ago, the local authorities went to the Supreme Court, which ordered the appeals court to reconsider. Now that appeals court has reaffirmed its decision, ruling once again that the judge gave the jury illegal instructions during the sentencing procedure that unfairly influenced the jury to opt for the death penalty. That these kinds of instructions are unconstitutional is not new; in fact, the Supreme Court outlawed them in 1988.
The appeals court ruled that the state of Pennsylvania, where Philadelphia is located, must either accept this latest decision or hold a new sentencing hearing within six months. That would require a new jury and a re-examination of evidence, something which the authorities on all levels in the US have done their best to prevent.
However, the state of Pennsylvania may go back to the Supreme Court in yet another effort to overturn the appeals court ruling. In that case, Mumia would remain on death row until the issue is settled. Even if he is not executed, his sentence would remain, keeping him in prison until he dies.
Mumia is locked in a small cell for 23 hours a day, and kept in chains and shackles when allowed out. He can speak to family and lawyers only through a Plexiglas window.
The Supreme Court refused to hear Mumia's earlier appeal that his conviction should be overturned because African-Americans were excluded from the jury. This goes against the Supreme Court's stance in another landmark decision, adding fuel to the observation among legal circles that the courts do not seem to apply the law to Mumia.
The appeals court that ruled on 26 April that the judge in this case acted illegally is the same court that earlier refused to grant Mumia a new trial because of the misconduct by the judge and prosecution. Again, the courts are demonstrating that political rather than legal considerations are what is keeping Mumia behind bars.
An international mass movement prevented his execution, which was first suspended in 1995. On the occasion of his 57th birthday on 24 April, demonstrations demanding his freedom were held in Brixton (London, UK); Marseilles, Rennes and Paris, France; as well as the U.S. On 30 April, the city of Saint Denis, a working class and immigrant suburb near Paris, held a ceremony celebrating the fifth anniversary of the naming of a city street after Mumia, attended by a delegation of Americans, including members of his legal defense team.