MARY CLAIRE DALE
The Associated Press
PHILADELPHIA - After a quarter century on death row, Mumia Abu-Jamal doesn't want to jeopardize a crucial U.S. appeals court hearing next month that could lead to a new trial.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit has agreed to hear the former Black Panther argue that prosecutors infused race into the jury selection process, resulting in a flawed 1982 conviction.
So the high-profile inmate is opposing a recent prosecution motion to have the entire 3rd Circuit step down over a potential conflict involving member Judge Marjorie O. Rendell.
"Let's move forward with this. Whatever's going to happen, let's do it. I think a quarter of a century is long enough," defense lawyer Robert R. Bryan of San Francisco told The Associated Press on Monday.
Abu-Jamal, who turns 53 next week, was convicted of killing a white Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner.
His writings and taped speeches from prison have made him a cause celebre, leaving him with a melange of vocal supporters, from black activists to Hollywood celebrities to death-row opponents. The French have even named a street after him.
"It's tragic," Assistant District Attorney Hugh J. Burns Jr. said Monday of the "Free Abu-Jamal" movement. "It seems to be based on emotion, not facts. ... Short of having a videotape of the murder, I don't know how you can imagine having a stronger case."
Faulkner, 25, was killed after he pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother on Dec. 9, 1981. Abu-Jamal was found at the scene near the gun and later confessed, Burns said.
Abu-Jamal has filed regular appeals, but has never before gotten as far as a federal appeals court hearing. Prosecutors, in asking for the entire panel to step down, apparently want to quash any grounds for a future appeal.
They say the 3rd Circuit could appear to be biased since Judge Rendell's husband , Pennsylvania Gov. Ed. Rendell , was the city's elected district attorney during the 1982 trial.
Mumia, in court papers, calls that notion an insult to the court and a ploy to delay the oral arguments scheduled for May 17.
"Certainly Judge Rendell has a far higher standard of ethics and better things to do with her life than to sit around evenings discussing with her spouse litigants appearing before this court," Bryan wrote.
The 3rd Circuit has granted each side 30 minutes for argument, although Bryan has asked for twice that amount. He may need to share his time with two groups that have filed amicus briefs in the case, the NAACP on the race issue and the National Lawyers Guild on the death penalty, he said.
In 2001, a federal judge overturned Abu-Jamal's death sentence but upheld his conviction. Both sides have appealed that ruling to the 3rd Circuit. The appeals court in December 2005 agreed to consider three of Mumia's appeal claims, while dismissing many others as frivolous.
Abu-Jamal remains on death row in western Pennsylvania