Mumia wins appeal that could get him off death row

By: Marlene Martin

Mumia Abu Jamal won an important court decision that could finally get him off death row—but unfortunately won’t set him free. 

On April 26, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that found that the sentencing instructions given to the jury during Mumia’s 1982 trial were improper. The ruling orders the state of Pennsylvania to hold a new jury trial within 180 days. This jury will decide whether to reimpose the death sentence on Mumia or the sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The jury will not be deciding Mumia’s conviction—he did not win a new trial—it’s only to determine what sentence should be imposed. 

If a jury trial does not occur within 180 days, Mumia’s sentence will automatically become life without the possibility of parole. The first-ever Black District Attorney in Philadelphia, Seth Williams, said he would appeal the resentencing decision to the Supreme Court. 

For Mumia supporters who want to see him freed, it is difficult to see a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for Mumia as a victory. His trial was riddled with racism the courts have never acknowledged and his many attempts to find justice in the courts have been blocked by ludicrous rulings. 

But we must remember that the powerful forces working against Mumia want nothing more than to see him killed—and this ruling, if it is sustained on appeal, would allow Mumia to live, which is a victory. It is far from all we want, but it allows us to fight another day.

To read a recent commentary from Mumia reprinted from his airing on Prison Radio, go to page 8.

The following is an excerpt from a statement by the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu Jamal. To view the full statement, go to

Mumia Declares His Innocence

Mumia always proclaimed his innocence. But having earlier been advised by lawyers not to speak on the specifics, and advised by new lawyers in 2001, he filed an affidavit on the events. Michael Coard referred to this affidavit in the debate, but had no time to elaborate. We provide here some elaboration.

In the most relevant portions of his statement, Mumia said that he was in the area of the shooting at the time because he was a cab driver looking for a fare: 

“I was filling out my log when I heard some shouting. I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a flashing dome light of a police cruiser. This wasn’t unusual. I continued to fill out my log/trip sheet when I heard what sounded like gun shots. I looked again into my rear view mirror and saw people running up and down Locust. As I scanned I recognized my brother standing in the street staggering and dizzy. I immediately exited the cab and ran to his scream. As I came across the street I saw a uniformed cop turn toward me gun in hand, saw a flash and went down on my knees. I closed my eyes and sat still trying to breathe.” —Declaration of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 03 May 2001. (This affidavit is posted in the archives at

After this, Mumia says he blacked out, and then “woke up to being beaten by a crowd of cops...” 

The Meaning of  “Ramp, Ramp, Ramp” 

This description of the events, emphasizing that Mumia arrived on the scene only after the officer was shot, matches that of the two most important witnesses, who have never been properly heard from by the courts: Arnold Beverly and William Singletary. 

Witness William Singletary confirms the beating, and adds a telling detail, which confirms his account. According to Singletary, the cops picked up the wounded Jamal, three on a side, and rammed his head into a pole while shouting, “Ramp, Ramp, Ramp,” (statements of William Single­tary, Unbeknownst to Singletary at the time, Ramp was the name of a cop who had been killed by “friendly fire” in a raid on a house belonging to MOVE, a local Black-centered community group in 1978. The young journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal had publicly defended and supported the arrested MOVE members (now called the “MOVE 9”), and exposed this murderous police onslaught in his radio reports. 

The senior officer on the scene of the Faulkner shooting, where Jamal was shot, beaten and arrested, was Alfonzo Giordano. Giordano had been involved in the stakeouts and the 1978 attack on MOVE. This explains why they were shouting Ramp’s name: the cops knew exactly who they had that night. It was second nature to them to begin not just the beating, but the vindictive persecution and frame-up of Jamal the very instant they found him.

The Testimony of William Singletary

William Singletary was a businessman who owned gas stations and a towing operation, in which he had frequent dealings with the police. He therefore had no reason to lie against the police; he had every reason to support them. He was also a club owner and was in the area of the shooting to check up on a competitor’s club. He claims to have seen the entire shooting from beginning to end. He said that Mumia arrived only after the cop was shot, arrived unarmed, and never fired a shot. But Singletary’s statement was not accepted, and the cops tried to get him to change his story to make Mumia the shooter. He refused. His businesses were promptly attacked and destroyed by cops, and he was driven out of town, with the warning that he should not be around for the trial. 

Singletary’s description of the events dovetails with Arnold Beverly’s description, in several important respects. They both said that Mumia had nothing to do with the shooting of police officer Faulkner, and they both agree that Mumia arrived only after the cop was shot, whereupon he was himself shot by a cop who arrived on the scene.

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal shows that the much-heralded “rule of law” in this so-called democracy is a fraud from beginning to end. For nearly half a century, Mumia has been hounded by the state’s forces of “law and order.” First targeted when he was 15 under the FBI’s counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO) for his political work as an activist exposing police racism and brutality, Mumia was framed on the spot in December of 1981.