Prosecutors in Philadelphia announced Wednesday that they had dropped their attempts to execute Mumia Abu-Jamal, the death row inmate convicted of killing a police officer 30 years ago and whose subsequent legal case based on claims of innocence had received international attention.
Abu-Jamal will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, said Seth Williams, the district attorney for Philadelphia.
“This has been a very, very difficult decision,” Williams said at a news conference, adding that he believed Abu-Jamal was guilty of the murder and should be executed. “The sentence was appropriate. That would have been the just sentence for this defendant.”
In April, a federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal because instructions given to jurors during his 1982 trial had been potentially misleading. In October, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Williams said the appeals court ruling — and others that have spared Abu-Jamal’s life over the years — had led him to think about dropping his pursuit of the death penalty. He said he made the decision after discussing it with Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the slain police officer.
Ms. Faulkner, who appeared at the news conference with Williams and other city officials, said she had agreed to give up her advocacy of Abu-Jamal’s execution because the case had dragged on for so long. Ms. Faulkner said the case had taken a toll on the health of her family members.
Abu-Jamal, who is black, was convicted of fatally shooting Faulkner, who was white, in Dec. 1981, after the police officer pulled over Abu-Jamal’s brother for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Through the years, Abu-Jamal’s execution was scheduled at least twice — in August 1995 and December 1999.
In a three-decade battle played out in court and the news media, the case was said to be either a miscarriage of justice based on racism, or a cut-and-dried murder of a law enforcement officer in which the issue of race prevented justice from being carried out.
In his long stay on death row, Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and radio reporter, became a vocal and — to some — convincing advocate of the “Free Mumia” movement. He wrote a book, conducted interviews and raised money for his defense; several fund-raisers in which prominent musicians performed were held on his behalf. His case generated protests around the world as well.