Mumia Abu-Jamal, pictured in 1994, has been an outspoken activist from on death row at a Pennsylvania prison.

Story highlights

Mumia Abu-Jamal will serve a life sentence in prison

Abu-Jamal was convicted of shooting a police officer three decades ago

District attorney: "The decision to end this fight was not an easy one to make"

CNN  — 

Philadelphia prosecutors have dropped their pursuit of the death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of shooting a police officer three decades ago.

He will instead serve a life sentence in prison, prosecutors said Wednesday.

“The decision to end this fight was not an easy one to make,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “There has never been a doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner, and I believe the appropriate sentence was handed down in 1982.”

Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 killing of Daniel Faulkner.

Witnesses testified that Abu-Jamal shot Faulkner in the back and head after the officer pulled over Abu-Jamal’s brother in a late-night traffic stop.

Once known as Wesley Cook, Abu-Jamal was wounded in the encounter and later confessed to the killing.

He’s been on death row at a state prison in southwest Pennsylvania, where he’s remained an outspoken activist from behind bars – claiming there were procedural errors during his capital sentencing, and that too few blacks were on the jury.

The case has attracted international attention, amid charges of prosecutorial misconduct.

Abu-Jamal, a onetime radio reporter and cabdriver, has been a divisive figure, with many prominent supporters arguing that racism pervaded his trial.

Others counter that Abu-Jamal is using his race to try to escape responsibility for his actions. They say he has provoked community unrest for years with his writings and advocacy.

In April, Abu-Jamal was granted a new sentencing hearing by a federal appeals court, sparking a threat by the prosecutor to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

In its 32-page decision, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals accepted defense arguments that the jury instructions at Abu-Jamal’s 1982 murder trial were unclear.

The court’s decision did not grant Abu-Jamal a new trial; his conviction on the murder charge stands.

A 2008 appeals court ruling also had nullified Abu-Jamal’s death sentence and granted him a new sentencing hearing. But the Supreme Court tossed out that ruling and ordered the appeals court to revisit the issue. The high court last year denied Abu-Jamal’s separate petition for a new trial.