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Prosecutors decline to continue seeking death penalty for Mumia

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams [official website] announced Wednesday that his office will no longer seek the death penalty [press release] against Mumia Abu-Jamal [Philadelphia Inquirer backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. As a result of the decision, Abu-Jamal will remain in prison for life ending a 30-year sentencing battle after he was convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner. Williams said the decision was made after consultation with Faulkner's family and rests on the premise that continuing to seek the death penalty would open the case to an "unknowable number of years" of appeals. The decision was applauded by supporters on both sides. Abu-Jamal's recent legal representative, Widener University law professor Judith Ritter [academic profile] welcomed the decision [AP report].

The conviction was upheld through years of appeals, but a new sentencing hearing was granted [JURIST report] in April on the basis of improper jury instructions. The US Supreme Court [official website] declined to opine on the decision in October, which forced prosecutors to decide whether they would pursue the death penalty through a new sentencing hearing. The Supreme Court had considered Abu-Jamal's case in several previous rulings. The court remanded the case to the Third Circuit [JURIST report] in January 2010 for further consideration in light of the ruling in Smith v. Spisak [opinion, PDF; JURIST report]. The Supreme Court declined to review [JURIST report] Abu-Jamal's conviction in April 2009. In 2008, the Third Circuit affirmed [JURIST report] a district court ruling overturning the sentence in Abu-Jamal's case, and the only issue to be determined on remand was whether the court erred in allowing the new sentencing hearing. Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner [advocacy website] after Faulkner pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother for a traffic violation. The case has become a focal point for death penalty opponents and Abu-Jamal's supporters [advocacy website] who believe he was the victim of a racially biased justice system.

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About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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