Philadelphia, Dec. 18-(AP) A federal judge on Tuesday threw out the death sentence imposed nearly three decades ago on Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former journalist and Black Panther held up by as activists worldwide as a political prisoner of a racist justice system.

U.S. District Judge William Yohn cited problems with the jury charge and verdict form in the trial that ended with Abu-Jamal's first-degree murder conviction in the death of a Philadelphia police officer. The judge denied all of Abu-Jamal's other claims and refused his request for a new trial. The judge said Abu-Jamas is entitled to a new sentencing hearing within 180 days. "Should the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania not have conducted a new sentencing hearing ... the Commonwealth shall sentence petitioner to life imprisonment," the judge said in his 272-page ruling. The ruling could be appealed to the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Abu-Jamal is America's most famous death-row inmate--revered by a worldwide "Free Mumia'' movement as a crusader against racial injustice, and reviled by the officers' supporters as an unrepentant cop-killer who deserves to die. Abu-Jamal was convicted of shooting officer Daniel Faulkner, 25, during the early-morning hours of Dec. 9, 1981, after the officer pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother in a downtown traffic stop.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe ruled Nov. 21 that she did not have jurisdiction over Abu-Jamal's petition for a new trial, scuttling his hopes for another round of state-court appeals. Abu-Jamal exhausted the state appeals process two years ago, but a petition filed in September argued that the defense had new evidence to clear him, including a confession by a man named Arnold Beverly.

In a 1999 affidavit, Beverly claimed he was hired by the mob to kill Faulkner because the officer had interfered with mob payoffs to police. Abu-Jamal's former lawyers, Leonard Weinglass and Daniel R. Williams, said they thought the confession was not credible and Yohn refused to order Beverly to testify on Abu-Jamal's behalf.

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