THE BITTER, divisive and protracted Mumia Abu-Jamal death-penalty case reached its legal conclusion yesterday with District Attorney Seth Williams' decision to not seek a new death sentence for the convicted cop-killer.
Williams' decision - backed by the family of slain Officer Daniel Faulkner - means that Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, MOVE sympathizer and radio-talk-show host who became an interational anti-capital-punishment figure while on death row, will remain in prison for the rest of his life without parole.
"The decision to end this fight was not an easy one to make. There's never been any doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner," a somber Williams said during a late-morning news conference at his Center City office building.
The rancor and acrimony surrounding the case, however, will likely go on for some time.
Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of Abu-Jamal's slaying of Faulkner, 25, during a Center City traffic stop at 13th and Locust streets.
Tonight, Maureen Faulkner - the officer's widow - will be part of a panel discussion about the case at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside hosted by radio talker Michael Smerconish, the author of Murdered by Mumia.
Tomorrow, supporters of Abu-Jamal, 57, will gather for their own forum at the National Constitution Center to hear Princeton University professor Cornel West and other local and national personalities. On Saturday, Abu-Jamal's backers will have organizing and fundraising activities at the Germantown Event Center, 5245 Germantown Ave.
"This is not an ending, it is a new beginning for the movement supporting Abu-Jamal's quest for release," the "We the People" organization said in a statement released after Williams' announcement.
At Williams' news conference, emotions were raw, and Maureen Faulkner and Richard Costello, former head of the city's Fraternal Order of Police, called Abu-Jamal an unrepentant murderer and an animal.
Faulkner also blasted four federal judges whom she blamed for standing in the way of Abu-Jamal's being executed as a city jury had decreed after finding him guilty of her husband's first-degree murder.
"The disgusting reality with the death penalty in Pennsylvania is that the fix is in before the hearings even begin, and federal judges, including the four dishonest cowards who presided over my husband's case, are the fixers," she said.
The judges she named are William H. Yohn Jr., Anthony Scirica, Thomas Ambro and Robert E. Cowen.
Daniel Faulkner and Abu-Jamal crossed paths at 4 a.m. Dec. 9, 1981, shortly after the officer pulled over a car driven by William Cook, the defendant's brother.
Abu-Jamal, who happened upon the traffic stop while working as a taxi driver, pulled over and shot Faulkner in the back with a .38-caliber revolver as his brother fought with the officer.
Faulkner managed to turn and shoot Abu-Jamal in the upper chest before falling to the ground and being shot in the face by the defendant.
Williams said the time had come to end the legal saga for a host of practical reasons, including that witnesses had died, the difficulty of picking a jury, the quality of evidence after so many years, the impact on the Faulkner family and the city, and the "unknowable" decades of court appeals that would follow if the defendant was again sentenced to death.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court in October chose not to review the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to vacate the death sentence as Williams had requested, he was faced with two options: to hold a new months-long sentencing hearing or to allow Abu-Jamal to remain in prison for life without parole.
In vacating the death sentence, the 3rd Circuit ruled that the instructions given to the jury during Abu-Jamal's sentencing hearing had been unclear and confusing.
On Monday, during a telephone interview broadcast on Philadelphia radio station WURD (900-AM), Abu-Jamal told host Barbara Grant that the death penalty is racist and built on a fallacy. When Grant asked how he had been enduring on a human and personal level, he replied:
"Sometimes I ask myself that. But of course, I'm strong, I'm well; I feel surrounded by a sea of love and the struggle continues."
Later he said: "Until we change this system, we're all on death row, believe it or not."