AFP, October 6, 2008
The US Supreme Court Monday refused to hear arguments for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther accused of killing a police officer who has become an icon for anti-capital punishment campaigners.
His lawyer Robert Bryan has already said he will seek to bring a second Supreme Court appeal—on the grounds of racism—for the 54-year-old former radio journalist accused of the 1981 murder of Daniel Faulkner.
Abu-Jamal’s death sentence was overturned in March by a federal court in Philadelphia, which found that the jury in the case had been incorrectly instructed. The judges voted two-to-one to uphold his conviction, however.
Having escaped death row, his lawyers are now fighting a life sentence and want to bring him back before a jury for a new trial.
They had asked the Supreme Court to approve a re-trial because of unreliable testimony from witnesses.
Bryan has said he will not rest until his client is freed. “Even though the federal court granted a new trial on the question of the death penalty, we want a complete reversal of the conviction,” he said in July.
As part of his defense, Abu-Jamal has argued he was denied a fair trial in 1982 because the prosecution barred 10 qualified African-Americans from sitting on the jury, which in the end consisted of 10 whites and two blacks.
The Philadelphia appeals court had rejected his arguments on lack of evidence of any racist intent on the part of the prosecution.
The US penal code bans the exclusion of potential jurists because of the colour of their skin.
Abu-Jamal’s campaign has attracted support from Nelson Mandela, Hollywood celebrities Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon and British parliamentarians, according to campaign group Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition.
Abu-Jamal was serving as the president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists at the time of his arrest. He was a founding member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Black Panther Party as a teenager.
The Black Panther Party was a Leftist African-American organization from the 1960s and 70s established to promote black power and self-defense.