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Abu-Jamal death sentence to be argued in court

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Mumia Abu-Jamal's case has become an international cause
  • Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer
  • The former radio host and Black Panther is an outspoken critic of the justice system

(CNN) -- The death penalty imposed on Mumia Abu-Jamal will be argued again in a federal appeals court Tuesday.

Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, was convicted of gunning down a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, police officer more than 28 years ago.

He has been an outspoken activist from behind bars, claiming there were procedural errors during his capital sentencing, and that too few blacks were on the jury.

In 2008, a federal appeals court ruled in Abu-Jamal's favor saying that the jury instructions given at his trial were flawed. The decision nullified Abu-Jamal's death sentence and granted him a new sentencing hearing.

But in January, the Supreme Court tossed out the appeals court ruling. The Supreme Court also ordered the federal appeals court to revisit its ruling and that will occur Tuesday.

The appeals court now has the option of reimposing the death sentence or ordering a new federal trial to hear other claims of injustice raised by Abu-Jamal.

The case has attracted international attention, amid charges of prosecutorial misconduct and the inmate's outspoken personality.

The onetime radio reporter and cab driver has been a divisive figure, with many prominent supporters arguing that racism pervaded his trial.

Others countered Abu-Jamal is using his skin color to escape responsibility for his actions. They say he has provoked community unrest for years with his writings and advocacy.

He was convicted for the December 9, 1981, murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner, 25, in Philadelphia. Faulkner had pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother in a late-night traffic stop. Witnesses said Abu-Jamal, who was nearby, ran over and shot the policeman in the back and in the head.

Abu-Jamal, once known as Wesley Cook, was wounded in the encounter and later confessed to the killing, according to other witness testimony.

Incarcerated for nearly three decades, Abu-Jamal has been an active critic of the criminal justice system.