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On this date in 2001, a federal judge threw out the death sentence imposed nearly two decades earlier on Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Abu-Jamal, a Black writer, and activist, is respected by supporters worldwide as a crusader against racial injustice but reviled by others as an unrepentant cop-killer. U.S. District Judge William Yohn cited problems with the jury charge and verdict form in the trial that ended with the former journalist and Black Panther's first-degree murder conviction in the 1981 death of a Philadelphia police officer. The judge denied all of Abu-Jamal's other claims and refused his request for a new trial.
The judge said jurors should have been able to consider mitigating circumstances during sentencing even if they did not unanimously agree those circumstances existed. Yohn ordered the state to conduct a new sentencing hearing within 180 days or sentence Abu-Jamal to life imprisonment. The ruling could be appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Abu-Jamal, perhaps America's most famous death-row inmate, was convicted of shooting Officer Faulkner, 25, during the early-morning hours of December 9, 1981, after the officer pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother. The latter was driving the wrong way down a one-way street. A scuffle ensued, and Abu-Jamal, sitting in his taxicab across the street, ran over. Prosecutors said Abu-Jamal drew his.38-caliber revolver and fired, hitting the officer in the back. They said Faulkner turned and fired, hitting Abu-Jamal in the chest, and Abu-Jamal then shot Faulkner in the face.
Abu-Jamal has said police shot him as he ran to the scene and then beaten. Both sides marked the 20th anniversary of the shooting earlier that month.
In a related episode, on April 6, 2009, The US Supreme Court rejected Mumia Abu-Jamal's bid for a new trial.