A federal appeals court on Thursday said former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal cannot be executed for murdering a Philadelphia police officer without a new penalty hearing. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Abu-Jamal's conviction should stand, but that he should get a new sentencing hearing because of flawed jury instructions. If prosecutors don't want to give him a new death penalty hearing, Abu-Jamal would be sentenced automatically to life in prison.
Abu-Jamal, 53, once a radio reporter, has attracted a legion of artists and activists to his cause in a quarter-century on death row. A Philadelphia jury convicted him in 1982 of killing Officer Daniel Faulkner, 25, after the patrolman pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother in an overnight traffic stop.
He had appealed, arguing that racism by the judge and prosecutors corrupted his conviction at the hands of a mostly white jury. Prosecutors, meanwhile, had appealed a federal judge's 2001 decision to grant Abu-Jamal a new sentencing hearing because of the jury instructions.
Hundreds of people protested outside the federal building in Philadelphia in May and an overflow crowd - including legal scholars, students, lawyers, the policeman's widow and Abu-Jamal's brother - filled the courtroom when the appeals court heard arguments about the case.
The officer's widow, Maureen Faulkner, has kept her husband's memory alive over the years, and recently co-wrote a book about the case. The book, "Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain and Injustice," written with radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish, came out in December.