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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 19:18 GMT
Abu-Jamal's death sentence overturned
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence
A federal judge in Philadelphia has thrown out the death sentence against former journalist and Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Judge William Yohn ruled that Abu-Jamal was entitled to a new sentencing hearing for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, but he denied him the right to a new trial.

Martin Sheen
Martin Sheen: One of Abu-Jamal's many Hollywood supporters
Mr Yohn, citing errors in the original penalty phase of the murder trial, ruled that the new hearing should take place within 180 days, or else Abu-Jamal would automatically be sentenced to life imprisonment instead.

Abu-Jamal is America's most famous death-row inmate - his case has been supported by many Hollywood celebrities and European figures who regard him as a political prisoner of a racist justice system.

His opponents however, see him as an unrepentant murderer.

'Running away'

Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner during a shoot-out in the early hours of 9 December 1981, after the officer pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother for driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

Abu-Jamal, who was wounded in the chest, denies killing the officer and maintains that he was shot whilst running away.

With backing from his network of supporters, Abu-Jamal has launched numerous legal appeals to stall his execution.

New evidence

He exhausted the state appeals process two years ago, but a new petition filed in September argued that the defence had new evidence to clear him, including a confession by a man named Arnold Beverly.

In a 1999 affidavit, Mr Beverly claimed he was hired by the mob to kill Faulkner because the officer had interfered with mob payoffs to police.

However, Abu-Jamal's former lawyers said they thought the confession was not credible and Mr Yohn refused to order Mr Beverly to testify on Abu-Jamal's behalf.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"He could still get the death penalty"
The BBC's Nick Bryant
"This ruling has satisfied nobody"
See also:

18 May 01 | TV and Radio
Protesters target Sheen
02 Nov 99 | Entertainment
Police plan Sting protest
15 Aug 01 | Americas
Spotlight on US death penalty
11 Jun 01 | Americas
Death penalty worldwide
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