[Ppnews] Supreme Court Might Reinstate Death Penalty for Mumia
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Oct 12 10:35:56 EDT 2009
We have been saying that there is a strong possibility that the US
Supreme Court will reinstate the Death Penalty for Mumia. This while
the leading candidate running to replace Lynne Abraham as Attorney
General is calling for Mumia's execution and a new hit piece film by
Tigre Hill "The Barrel of a Gun" is scheduled to be released around
December 9th, the 28th anniversary of Mumia's arrest and the
beginning of the subsequent conspiracy to have him executed. Now
this article. Please pay close attention and stay tuned for our
messages. -- Suzanne Ross, for the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition
This is most alarming news:
Ohio Death Penalty Case Might Determine Abu-Jamal's Fate
Shannon P. Duffy
The Legal Intelligencer
October 12, 2009
Lawyers for convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal will be watching
closely on Tuesday when the U.S. Supreme Court takes up an Ohio death
penalty case because its outcome may very well decide whether
Abu-Jamal's death sentence will be reinstated.
In April, Abu-Jamal lost his final appeal seeking a new trial for the
December 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner
when the justices
<http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202429709644>refused to take
up the issue of whether blacks were unfairly excluded from the
But, at the time, the justices took no action on a companion petition
filed by the Philadelphia district attorney's office demanding
reinstatement of Abu-Jamal's death sentence despite having discussed
it weeks before.
Now it appears certain that the high court has decided to hold the
Philadelphia prosecutors' petition in abeyance pending the outcome of
Smith v. Spisak -- an Ohio case that raises strikingly similar issues
to those in Abu-Jamal's case.
If the prosecutors in that case are successful and win reinstatement
of the death sentence imposed on Frank G. Spisak, the justices may
then see no need to take up Abu-Jamal's case.
Instead, at that point, it's likely that the justices would simply
issue a one-page order in Abu-Jamal's case that would summarily
reverse the decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and
order the appellate court to reconsider whether Abu-Jamal's death
sentence should be reinstated.
Why is Abu-Jamal's case so similar to Spisak's? Both were on death
row for notorious murders, but both won rulings in federal court that
granted them partial new trials limited to the penalty phase.
In both cases, the federal courts' decisions to overturn the death
sentences hinged on
<http://supreme.justia.com/us/486/367/case.html>Mills v. Maryland --
a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that governs how juries should
deliberate during the penalty phase of a capital trial.
The Mills ruling struck down a Maryland statute that said juries in
capital cases must be unanimous on any aggravating or mitigating
factor. Voting 5-4, the justices declared that unanimity was properly
required for any aggravating factor, but that mitigating factors --
those that weigh against imposing a death sentence -- must be handled
more liberally, with each juror free to find on his or her own.
Since then, Mills has proven to be a powerful tool for defense
lawyers aiming to overturn death sentences in numerous other states.
The question now before the courts is whether Mills truly requires
that death sentences in other states be overturned if the juries in
those states might have been confused by faulty instructions or
verdict forms and led to believe that mitigating factors require unanimity.
Perhaps even more important to the justices is a corollary question
of federalism: Is it fair for the federal courts to overturn a state
court's decision on how to interpretMills by imposing its own
interpretation that extends Mills beyond its original scope?
It's possible that the justices will provide the answers to those
questions in Spisak's case that will be immediately applied to
Abu-Jamal's case -- with Abu-Jamal and his lawyers forced to simply
watch and wait until that happens.
Spisak, 57, was sentenced to death in 1983 for a killing spree at
Cleveland State University after a monthlong trial that reportedly
included testimony that he was a neo-Nazi and cross-dresser.
According to briefs in the case, Spisak killed Horace T. Rickerson,
Timothy Sheehan and Brian Warford and also shot at John Hardaway and
Coletta Dartt. Hardaway was shot seven times but survived and
identified Spisak as the shooter.
After his arrest, Spisak confessed to all five shootings and declared
that his actions were motivated by his hatred of gay people, blacks and Jews.
As Ohio prosecutors argued in their Supreme Court brief, Spisak
"proudly testified at length as to his neo-Nazi beliefs and told the
jury that those beliefs had motivated the murders."
In 2006, the 6th Circuit overturned Spisak's death sentence based on
a Mills violation as well as findings that his lawyers were
ineffective and had "demonized" Spisak during the trial.
The Supreme Court overturned the ruling and ordered the 6th Circuit
to study the case again in light of two other decisions by the high court.
But the 6th Circuit in 2008 reinstated its prior decisions, finding
they were correct.
Now the Supreme Court has taken the Spisak case up a second time to
tackle the question of whether the 6th Circuit failed to give proper
deference to the Ohio state courts "when it applied Mills v. Maryland
to resolve ... questions that were not decided or addressed in Mills."
Abu-Jamal's lead lawyer, Robert R. Bryan of San Francisco, said in
April that the issue in Spisak is "very similar" to the issue raised
in the prosecutors' petition in Abu-Jamal's case.
"The question we've got," Bryan said at the time, "is whether we'll
be left dangling in the wind until Spisak is decided."
In the prosecutor's petition in Abu-Jamal's case, Deputy District
Attorney Ronald Eisenberg argued that the 3rd Circuit failed to give
the proper deference to the rulings of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
which had addressed the Mills issue in 1995 and -- relying on a 3rd
Circuit decision -- concluded that the Pennsylvania jury instructions
did not run afoul of Mills.
But by the time Abu-Jamal's case made its way into the federal
courts, the 3rd Circuit "had changed its mind," Eisenberg argued,
with a series of decisions that said the Pennsylvania courts'
analysis of Mills was not only wrong but unreasonable.
Eisenberg urged the justices to see a difference between Mills --
where the Maryland jury was specifically instructed that it had to be
unanimous on mitigating factors -- and the situation in states like
Pennsylvania, where the issue is much subtler and hinges on
speculation by the federal courts that the jury might have been confused.
"The difficulty with the 3rd Circuit's 'risk of confusion' view is
that Mills, quite simply, stated no such rule," Eisenberg argues.
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