Court turns down Philly DA in cop-killing case

October 11, 2011 - 12:30 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia prosecutors must pursue a second death-penalty sentence for convicted police killer Mumia Abu-Jamal or accept a life sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to review the racially charged case.

Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, has spent nearly 30 years on death row after his 1982 conviction for killing white officer Daniel Faulkner.

A federal appeals court this year upheld his conviction, but agreed the death-penalty instructions were potentially misleading and ordered a new sentencing hearing.

City prosecutors appealed that order, but must now decide whether to pursue the death penalty for a second time. Only three people have been executed in Pennsylvania since 1976, and none since 1999.

The officer's widow, Maureen Faulkner, had supported that appeal, but wondered Tuesday whether it was time to end the long-running drama. A re-hearing would cost the city millions, and keep Abu-Jamal in the media spotlight, she said. And many of the relevant witnesses are dead.

"He does get in the spotlight, and you just don't know which way it's going to go," the 54-year-old Faulkner said from her home in southern California.

"I was 25 when this started, and Danny's 30-year anniversary (of his death) is coming up Dec. 9," she said. "I feel like I have a life sentence hanging over my head with this."

City prosecutors, who spoke briefly with Maureen Faulkner, plan to take some time before deciding their next move, District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement.

Widener University law professor Judith Ritter and the American Civil Liberties Union represented Abu-Jamal in the latest appeal.

"At long last, the profoundly troubling prospect of Mr. Abu-Jamal facing an execution that was produced by an unfair and unreliable penalty phase has been eliminated," said John Payton, president of the ACLU's Legal Defense & Educational Fund. "Our system should never condone an execution that stems from a trial in which the jury was improperly instructed on the law."

According to trial testimony, Abu-Jamal saw his brother scuffle with the 25-year-old patrolman after a 4 a.m. traffic stop in 1981 and ran toward the scene. Police found Abu-Jamal wounded by a round from Faulkner's gun. Faulkner, shot several times, was dead. A .38-caliber revolver registered to Abu-Jamal was found at the scene with five spent shell casings.

Abu-Jamal's writings and radio broadcasts from death row have made him a cause celebre and the subject of numerous books and movies.