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Mumia Abu-Jamal to Receive New Appellate Hearing

by David M. Reutter

“In order for the criminal justice system to stand, justice must be completely just,” Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker wrote in an order granting former death row prisoner and PLN columnist Mumia Abu-Jamal an opportunity to appeal his 1981 conviction for killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal, 64, an award-winning journalist, has maintained his innocence since he was arrested. In 2011, his death sentence was overturned based on erroneous jury instructions and he was resentenced to life without parole. Abu-Jamal and his large base of supporters have continued their decades-long fight to exonerate him – or at least to obtain a fair trial.

The latest attempt focused on Ronald D. Castille, former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who had ruled on a number of Abu-Jamal’s appeals between 1998 and 2012. Castille had served as Philadelphia’s district attorney from 1986 to 1991. 

“There is no evidence that Justice Castille was directly involved in the case as a prosecutor,” Tucker wrote in his December 28, 2018 order, “but it would be difficult for a judge in his position not to view a case being reviewed on appeal that was handled by his office when he was the District Attorney, as a criticism of his former office and perhaps his own leadership.”

Judge Tucker’s order, in which he wrote “the slightest appearance of bias or lack of impartiality undermines the entire judiciary,” put pressure on progressive prosecutor Larry Krasner, a former defense attorney who had campaigned on a reform platform. 

“This is a narrow, technical decision in one sense, but incredibly complex and nuanced and affects many other cases,” Krasner said in announcing an appeal and noting the ruling by Judge Tucker could impact “possibly thousands of cases.”

Activist Mike Africa, Jr. saw a different motive for the DA’s decision to appeal. “He has a lot of pressure on him from the [Fraternal Order of Police],” Africa said. “And I know that he has a lot of pressure on him from Maureen Faulkner [Daniel Faulkner’s widow] and that side of the politics.”

Krasner’s decision to file an appeal resulted in his being disinvited as the keynote speaker for the Rebellious Lawyering conference at Yale University. In response, he asked everyone to step back and assess the situation. 

“I hope that the people who are critical take a deep breath and wait and see what it is we actually say in the brief that we file in this matter,” Krasner stated. He also pointed to six boxes of files related to Abu-Jamal’s case that his office had recently found in a warehouse and turned over to the defense. 

Krasner reconsidered and dropped his appeal on April 17, 2019, after Judge Tucker issued a revised, narrower order in the case. Thus, Abu-Jamal will receive a new appellate hearing and PLN will report on future developments. 

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Sources: truthout.com, The Intercept, 6abc.com, Fox News, workers.org