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Philly cop killer sues, says law stifles his free speech

Tribune-Review
| Monday, November 10, 2014 11:04 a.m

A state law targeting convicted Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal violates the First Amendment and is so vague that it is unconstitutional, Abu-Jamal and others say in a federal lawsuit filed Monday in Harrisburg.

Legislators drafted the law after the internationally known Abu-Jamal recorded a commencement address Oct. 5 for students at Goddard College in Vermont. The law allows a crime victim or a district attorney to seek an injunction or other relief “for conduct which perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim” and goes on to define that as including “conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish,” the lawsuit says.

An attorney for Abu-Jamal and the others said the law is poorly written and has more to do with election-year politics than victims’ rights.

“They are doing this to undermine the First Amendment, said Bret Grote of the Abolitionist Law Center, a nonprofit law firm that represents prisoners. “The priorities weren’t in trying to get a remedy for victims that was going to withstand a challenge.”

The plaintiffs are suing Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Philadelphia County District Attorney Seth Williams. Kane’s office declined comment.

“At this point, the ink is barely dry, and no defendant can claim that his rights have been violated,” read a statement from Williams’ office.

Legislators in both houses and the governor referred specifically to Abu-Jamal while debating, voting on and signing the bill, the lawsuit says. Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill Oct. 21 on the corner of 13th and Locust Streets where Abu-Jamal killed Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

In addition to Abu-Jamal, the plaintiffs are inmates Robert L. Holbrook and Kerry Shakaboona Marshall, two nonprofits, Prison Radio and the Human Rights Coalition, and a group of teachers called Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The lawsuit seeks a ruling that the state law is unconstitutional and recovery of the plaintiffs’ legal fees.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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