WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court cleared the way on Tuesday for high-profile death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal to get a new sentencing hearing for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer 30 years ago.
The justices let stand a ruling by a U.S. appeals court based in Philadelphia that Abu-Jamal, whose case has become a cause celebre for many death penalty opponents, deserved a new sentencing because of flawed jury instructions at his trial.
Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panthers militant group, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of white officer Daniel Faulkner in an early morning confrontation on December 9, 1981.
The officer was shot after stopping Abu-Jamal's brother for driving the wrong way down a street. Abu-Jamal, a former radio reporter working as a cab driver at the time, was arrested at the scene, where police found a revolver registered in his name and five spent shell casings.
Abu-Jamal's conviction has been upheld in the courts and was not at issue in the Supreme Court case. His execution has been on hold for some time while his appeals make their way through the court system.
Abu-Jamal, 58, has become known for his writings from death row that have called the justice system racist. For years, his case has been the subject of wide debate over his guilt and the fairness of his trial.
The appeals court ruled the jury instructions could have improperly led jurors to believe they needed to be unanimous in deciding on mitigating circumstances that could have resulted in a sentence other than the death penalty.
Prosecutors in the Abu-Jamal case appealed to the Supreme Court, but the justices rejected the appeal without comment, declining to hear the case.
The Supreme Court case is John Wetzel v. Mumia Abu-Jamal, No. 11-49.
(Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Philip Barbara)