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Death sentence overturned in cop killing

Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mumia Abu-Jamal  

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- A federal judge Tuesday overturned the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted 20 years ago of killing a Philadelphia police officer.

But U.S. District Judge William Yohn refused Abu-Jamal's request for a new trial, upholding his 1982 conviction of first degree murder.

In a 272-page decision, Yohn said Abu-Jamal, 47, was entitled to a new sentencing hearing in state court and ordered Pennsylvania officials to conduct one within 180 days.

A federal judge overturned the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted 20 years ago of killing a police officer. CNN's Michael Okwu reports (December 19)

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Yohn said if the state did not conduct a new sentencing hearing, the court would sentence Abu-Jamal to life imprisonment.

Philadelphia District Attorney Lynn Abraham, whose office prosecuted the case, said she would appeal the decision to federal appeals court. The 180-day clock would not start until the appeals are exhausted, she said.

Abraham said the majority of Yohn's decision focused on the facts of the case and "has established beyond any doubt whatsoever" that Abu-Jamal was guilty of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

However, she said that the judge's decision to grant a new sentencing hearing was flawed, and was based on court decisions that had not yet been made at the time of Abu-Jamal's trial.

"Our position is that the judge's decision was incorrect on the law and that we have an absolute right to take an appeal," Abraham said. "After 20 years I don't think any of you would expect any less."

There was no immediate comment from Abu-Jamal's defense team.

Abu-Jamal was convicted of shooting Faulkner during the early morning hours of December 9, 1981, after Faulkner had pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother in a downtown traffic stop.

Abu-Jamal was found lying on the ground near Faulkner with a gunshot wound from Faulkner's gun. A .38-caliber gun registered to Abu-Jamal was found next to him with five empty shell casings.

A jury sentenced him to death on July 3, 1982.

Faulkner's widow, Maureen Faulkner, told CNN Tuesday she is "absolutely outraged" that Abu-Jamal could get a new sentencing hearing.

"What about the victims, the survivors that have to go through a court hearing once again?" she said. "Judge Yohn ... is a sick, twisted person to make a decision a week before Christmas. I lost Danny on December 9, which was right before Christmas."

Faulkner, who now lives in Ventura County, California, said she would continue to "fight for justice for Danny."

Abu-Jamal's death sentence triggered protests from capital-punishment opponents, many of whom believe he was wrongly convicted.

Yohn granted Abu-Jamal a stay of execution in 1999 after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, now President Bush's director of Homeland Security, signed a second death warrant for the prisoner.

Abu-Jamal's legal team asked for a new trial in October 1999, alleging 29 violations of Abu-Jamal's constitutional rights. His lawyers argued prosecutors manipulated witnesses to falsely identify Abu-Jamal as the shooter, and accused prosecutors of suppressing and destroying critical evidence.

The appeal also accused the trial judge of bias, claimed blacks were improperly kept off the jury and labeled Abu-Jamal's original defense lawyers "inadequate."

While in prison, Abu-Jamal, a former radio journalist and Black Panther, wrote the book "Live From Death Row," a critique of the U.S. justice system.

Abu-Jamal did not testify at trial and has refused to talk about what happened with Faulkner. His defense lawyers say witnesses have come forward who saw someone else shoot Faulkner and flee the scene.

Abu-Jamal's lawyers have also argued his constitutional rights were violated at trial because he was denied the right to represent himself and was barred from the courtroom for nearly half of the proceedings.

-- CNN Producer Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this story.



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