Pa. Superior Court panel affirms life imprisonment for Mumia Abu Jamal

By Jon Campisi | Jul 10, 2013

Convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal, who has gained celebrity-like status the world

over since being found guilty of fatally gunning down a Philly police officer in the early 1980s, has had his life prison sentence affirmed by a state appellate court panel.

Three judges on the state’s Superior Court affirmed on July 9 the judgment of sentence entered last August by a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge.

That sentence, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, was handed down on Aug. 14, 2012.

Jamal, also known as Wesley Cook, subsequently filed an appeal.

The case has been winding its way through both the state and federal court system for decades.

Jamal, who has gained a legion of supporters all over the globe in recent years, was convicted by a Philadelphia jury of killing city Police Officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981, during a public confrontation.

Jamal was initially sentenced to death for his first-degree murder conviction, a penalty that was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Former Gov. Tom Ridge signed a writ of execution on June 1, 1995, the record shows.

From there, Jamal’s legal team filed various appeals while their client remained sitting on death row.

In late 1999, Ridge signed a second death warrant, after which Jamal’s attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus at the federal court in Philadelphia.

In late 2001, U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn denied all of Jamal’s claims except the one pertaining to his sentencing hearing, with the federal jurist determining that the instructions to the jury during the penalty phase were ambiguous.

Lawyers for the commonwealth appealed Yohn’s ruling, a move that began another round of appeals in the decades-long criminal case.

On Oct. 11, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to get involved in the case, meaning Yohn’s ruling would remain in effect.

The commonwealth eventually announced that it would no longer seek to have the death penalty imposed on Jamal.

It was last August that a state judge from Philadelphia imposed the life sentence.

Jamal, however, subsequently appealed the decision, challenging the constitutionality of the imposition of a life sentence without parole, as well as solitary confinement of inmates who have been sentenced to death.

Jamal essentially argued that his rights were violated because he and his legal team never received proper notice of the life imprisonment sentence, and that defense lawyers were not given the opportunity to present information and offer argument before the resentencing.

In the most recent ruling, the Superior Court judges wrote that contrary to Jamal’s arguments, the trial court did not sentence him “sua sponte,” but rather imposed the sentence in accordance with a federal court directive.

“It is initially noteworthy that, although not procedurally required to do so given Pennsylvania’s optional post-sentence motion practice, Appellant did not raise any procedural or constitutional deficiency in the re-sentencing procedure before the trial court,” the Superior Court’s memorandum states.

The panel also wrote that because Jamal filed a timely post-sentence motion and the subsequent Superior Court appeal, “he cannot establish that he was prejudiced by the lack of explanation of these post-sentencing rights.”

The panel also determined that Jamal could not establish prejudice in his argument that his constitutional rights were violated.

“In fact, Appellant has failed to cite any authority to establish that an infringement on due process and other constitutional rights occurs when a case is remanded for the imposition of a specific sentence with which the trial court has no discretion,” the Superior Court wrote. “Once again, the majority of federal cases relied upon by Appellant do not involve resentencing following remand from an appellate court.”

The state appeals judges also shot down Jamal’s argument that he has a constitutional right to make a statement upon resentencing, writing that in a prior Jamal appeal, the state Supreme Court concluded that no right to allocution exists in capital cases.

“Although his case is no longer a capital one, Appellant cites no authority requiring a court to afford a defendant allocution upon remand for the imposition of a court-mandated sentence,” the panel wrote.

The Superior Court judges who participated in the decision were Susan Peikes Gantman, Cheryl Lynn Allen and William H. Platt.

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