Abu-Jamal Loses Court Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday by Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther and radio journalist convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

Without commenting on the case, the court refused to review Abu-Jamal's arguments that he was denied a fair trial.

Gov. Tom Ridge will sign a new execution warrant for Abu-Jamal within 30 days, following state policy in capital cases, spokesman Tim Reeves said.

"I hope he signs it today," said Michael Smerconish, a Philadelphia attorney, radio talk show host and founder of a group called Justice for Daniel Faulkner that opposes Abu-Jamal's appeal.

While the action allows state prosecutors to seek an execution date, Abu-Jamal is not likely to be executed soon. He can still challenge his state court conviction in federal courts, a process that someday could lead back to the Supreme Court.

An attorney for Abu-Jamal, Dan Williams, said the Supreme Court was simply saying the case should be contested in federal court.

"It essentially says 'Take the matter to U.S. District Court before you bother us with it,'" Williams said.

Smerconish interpreted the refusal differently.

"Anyone who has taken the time to...look at the hard evidence that was presented can only come to one conclusion, that he killed Daniel Faulkner," Smerconish said.

Abu-Jamal's jailhouse writings about the justice system have attracted worldwide attention, and emotions have run high on both sides of the case.

Thousands of supporters have staged demonstrations in Philadelphia, New York and other cities to demand a new trial. At the same time, Smerconish said his group has raised $115,000 for billboards, airplane banners and other efforts to tell Faulkner's side of the story.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has twice upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction and death sentence, most recently last year. The state court found no merit in the various arguments his lawyers raised.

Abu-Jamal was convicted of fatally shooting Faulkner after the police officer stopped Abu-Jamal's brother for driving the wrong way down a city street.

Abu-Jamal, found wounded at the scene, maintained his innocence and contended he was framed.

The appeal raised three legal arguments, none focusing on Abu-Jamal's claim of innocence. But his lawyers did tell the justices about "an array of evidence powerfully supporting his longstanding insistence that he is victim of a monumental injustice."

The appeal centered on these claims:

  • Abu-Jamal wrongly was stripped of his right to represent himself during his trial's jury-selection phase.

  • He wrongly was removed from the courtroom after disrupting the trial proceedings, a violation of his right to confront the witnesses against him.

  • He wrongly was excluded from a meeting in which the trial judge disqualified a sequestered juror who secretl had gone home to tend a sick cat.
State prosecutors had urged the justices to reject Abu-Jamal's appeal. They said he killed Faulkner "by cold-bloodedly shooting him in the face as the officer lay helpless on the ground."