The federal appeals court ruled that death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal should get a new sentencing hearing, according to Reuters on Tuesday. The court found that the instructions given to the jury in 1982 could have been misleading.
Specifically, the death-penalty instructions could have caused jurors to believe that they needed to unanimously decide if there were mitigating circumstances, which would spare his life.
In December 1981, Abu-Jamal was convicted of shooting and killing Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia police officer. Former Black Panther Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death.
The Associated Press noted that if one juror found that mitigating circumstances outweighed aggravating factors in the murder, then Abu-Jamal should have received a life sentence. However, the three-judge appeals panel thought the verdict form was unclear, as the word “unanimous” was repeatedly used, even in the mitigating circumstances section.
Judge Anthony J. Scirica, as quoted by the Associated Press, stated, “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court failed to evaluate whether the complete text of the verdict form, together with the jury instructions, would create a substantial probability the jury believed both aggravating and mitigating circumstances must be found unanimously.”
Scirica's opinion upholds U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr.’s 2001 ruling, which stated that flawed jury instructions warranted a new sentencing hearing.
According to AP, Abu-Jamal wrote a book in 1995, “Live From Death Row,” describing and condemning prison life. He wrote that the prison system is systemically racist.