PHILADELPHIA — Convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal said he was surprised and somewhat disappointed that he did not get a new sentencing hearing in the racially charged murder case that had kept him on death row for nearly 30 years.
Abu-Jamal is a onetime radio journalist and former Black Panther who had been on death row since 1982 for gunning down white city police Officer Daniel Faulkner. He garnered worldwide support for his claims that he was the victim of a racist justice system.
Last week’s decision by prosecutors to drop their bid for capital punishment meant Abu-Jamal received an automatic life term. He said in a phone call to supporters Friday that he had already been moved off death row to a new cell in the western Pennsylvania prison where he is incarcerated.
“Because there will not be a hearing there is some disappointment, because we thought we could make some things happen in that hearing and really give a good fight,” Abu-Jamal said, “but we’ll have to fight in other ways.”
The call was broadcast to about 1,000 supporters gathered at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for an event marking the 30th anniversary of his arrest. Excerpts were posted Monday on prisonradio.org, which frequently airs his commentaries from behind bars.
Despite decades of appeals, Abu-Jamal’s conviction has never been overturned. But in 2008, a federal appeals court threw out his death sentence because of flawed jury instructions. Prosecutors then had to decide if they wanted to hold another penalty hearing, or agree to let the 57-year-old inmate serve a life term.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, with the blessing of Faulkner’s widow, announced last Wednesday that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty again because it would lead to “an unknowable number of years” of appeals.
“I must admit to some surprise because I was expecting the hearing … even though many friends and supporters and even lawyers said there probably wouldn’t be one,” Abu-Jamal said.
Abu-Jamal, who still has one state appeal pending, remains incarcerated at the state prison in Waynesburg, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Pittsburgh.
“I am for the first time, in almost 30 years, I’m not on death row physically …” he told supporters. “It takes some getting used to, you see, I’m still acclimating myself.”
Maureen Faulkner, the officer’s widow, had said in a scathing statement last week that she wanted Abu-Jamal to be removed from the seclusion of death row and placed in the institution’s general population.
“And I am heartened that he will be taken from the protective cloister he has been living in all these years and begin living among his own kind — the thugs and common criminals that infest our prisons,” Faulkner said.