PHILADELPHIA — Following the decision by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals that Mumia Abu-Jamal must be sentenced to life in prison or receive a new sentencing trial, his attorney and his supporters are vowing to continue the fight for his exoneration.

Abu-Jamal has been on death row for nearly 26 years, after being convicted in the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled March 27 that Abu-Jamal must be sentenced to life in prison or receive a new sentencing trial by jury in Philadelphia. By a 2-1 decision the panel upheld his conviction in the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

One panel member, Judge Thomas Ambro, wrote a 41-page dissent strongly criticizing the majority of the panel and saying the prosecution’s elimination of African Americans from the jury that convicted Abu-Jamal was evidence of racism. The National Lawyers Guild and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund had filed separate friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the appeal.

Calling the decision “a mixed bag,” Abu-Jamal’s lawyer, Robert Bryan, said, “Any time the death penalty gets thrown out, it is a real victory. We were astounded that the court ruled against a new trial.”

Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham could now call for a new sentencing trial that would decide whether to reinstate the death penalty or to sentence Abu-Jamal to life in prison. Abraham has said many times that Mumia Abu-Jamal should be executed. But Bryan said that even during a sentencing trial he would be able to present evidence proving Abu-Jamal is not guilty of murder.

Bryan will now ask the full Third Circuit Court to review the panel’s ruling. “Why is this case being treated differently than any other case?” he asked.

Many believe that Mumia Abu-Jamal’s past activities as a member of the Black Panthers and an activist journalist who wrote about injustice — especially about police abuse and corruption — is the reason his case has been treated differently. The Fraternal Order of Police has used its pressure and influence to call for his execution. The FOP has organized speaking tours around the country for the slain officer’s widow, Maureen Faulkner, who last year wrote a book about the case.

While in prison Abu-Jamal has written four books. He writes regularly about world politics and opposes the Iraq war and occupation. His worldwide support has been steadfast.

Abu-Jamal’s supporters around the world voiced outrage and disappointment at the court’s ruling. “This is no victory in any sense of the word,” said Pam Africa, speaking for the International Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. She added, “It is a divisive deceptive plot to fool people into thinking that they have done something fair by Mumia.”

Supporters rallied in New York, San Francisco, France and Germany. A press conference was held in Philadelphia. A march and rally are being organized for April 26 in Philadelphia.