Mumia Abu-Jamal could finally receive a new sentencing hearing in his 1981 Philadelphia cop murder conviction. In orders issued this morning, the Supreme Court denied Pennsylvania’s writ of certiorari in the case, the state’s last-ditch effort to keep Abu-Jamal’s original death sentence.
Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, was sentenced to death for first-degree murder in the 1981 shooting of Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia police officer. The case has bounced through the courts for almost 30 years as judges contemplated whether the jury instructions for Abu-Jamal’s sentencing were flawed.
In 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Abu-Jamal that the instructions were flawed, and granted him a new sentencing hearing. Two years later, the Supreme Court asked the Third Circuit to rethink that decision, but the Third Circuit held firm.
In April 2011, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 32-page decision finding again that Abu-Jamal was entitled to a new sentencing hearing. Pennsylvania and Philadelphia again petitioned the Supreme Court for writ of certiorari, this time arguing that the Third Circuit had misapplied the Supreme Court's Smith v. Spisak decision in its ruling.
The Supreme Court denied the writ without comment.
While the Supreme Court will not hear additional arguments in this round of the case, Abu-Jamal could make his way back to the High Court based on the outcome of the new sentencing hearing.
Abu-Jamal's guilt is not at issue in the appeal; multiple courts have upheld the merits of the cop murder conviction. A new jury, however, could resentence him to death.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has given the Philadelphia District Attorney's office the choice of conducting a new sentencing hearing, or reverting Mumia Abu-Jamal's sentence to life without parole.
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