DN Editorial: D.A. frees us from Abu-Jamal

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams' decision on Mumia Abu-Jamal is the right one. (Editorial cartoon: Signe Wilkinson)

SO WILL Mumia Abu-Jamal now have to rename his radio broadcast "Live . . . from the General Prison Population"?

Doesn't have nearly the same cache, does it? And the cache from his death-row status has been a key branding strategy for him almost from the day - 30 years ago today - when this one-time journalist (who had by then lost a succession of radio jobs because of increasingly erratic behavior) murdered Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

As this newspaper has observed many times over that period, if Abu-Jamal had been sentenced to life without parole, we believe he would be serving his time in semi-obscurity, a prisoner with a mellifluous voice who almost certainly would not have become the cause célèbre championed by clueless actors, college students and foreigners.

District Attorney Seth Williams' decision to not pursue a reimposition of the death sentence not only is smart and practical, but it gives everyone a chance at what the death penalty promises but rarely delivers: closure.

While prediction is a dangerous business, we are going to guess that the energy behind the Abu-Jamal cause, already diminished, will drain away. There won't be many more big-panel discussions or fundraisers like the ones scheduled for tonight and tomorrow. Although we respect Bishop Desmond Tutu, his call for the killer's release is ludicrous.

Before we all move on, a few other points: Unlike Seth Williams, we do doubt that he could have obtained a unanimous decision by 12 jurors to reimpose the death sentence had he chosen that route. Any prosecutor would have to worry about how to present a 30-year-old case - and the prisoner is no longer the young belligerent who repeatedly disrupted his own trial in 1982. As Williams pointed out, even if - after extensive and costly preparation - he succeeded, that would just set in motion another round of appeals - and publicity.

We cannot begin to fathom the anger, grief and frustration that has been carried by Faulkner's widow, Maureen, and how difficult it must have been for her to support Williams' decision. (Her bitter denunciation of four federal judges not only as "dishonest cowards" but also "fixers" should not go unchallenged; if she has actual evidence of illegal or unethical behavior, bring it forward.)

Given the strong evidence of his guilt, Mumia Abu-Jamal was never an appropriate poster child for eliminating the death penalty. But in the 29 years since he moved onto death row, the advent of DNA, among other factors, has uncovered proof that more than a few innocent people have been condemned to death and that many people who have been executed were indeed not guilty. That fact alone justifies eliminating it for everyone.

In this state, the death penalty is a "fiction," radio host Michael Smerconish observed yesterday. That's not a bad thing.