Judge in Mumia Abu-Jamal case opposes Philly D.A., but legal wheels still turn slowly
The activist, who sits on death row in Pennsylvania, is waiting while a push-pull ensues between judges and prosecutors over his right to an appeal
Mumia Abu-Jamal, an activist, journalist and 30-year death row inmate, seeks to have his case revisited in Pennsylvania state court but is receiving opposition from Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, drawing ire from the current presiding judge.
Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker cracked a door of opportunity open for Abu-Jamal’s case in December after he reinstated the rights for appeal. The grounds of the appeal were granted after evidence was provided of bias against Abu-Jamal by a former Supreme Court justice who previously ruled over the case.
Three decades ago, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner but his appeal was denied by then-Philadelphia D.A., Ron Castille, who later went on to serve on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1994 to 2014, the last eight years as Chief Justice.
Abu-Jamal’s case recently took a turn due to a letter penned in 1990 to then-Gov. Bob Casey by Castille that requested a quicker execution of death row inmates, the Philadelphia Tribune explained. The letter pushed “to send a clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”
The letter was not known to exist by Abu-Jamal and led Tucker to issue an opinion that Abu-Jamal should be granted an opportunity to present his case to the Supreme Court.
But Tucker’s opinion received pushback in the current district attorney’s office. The response to the request was met with officials in Krasner’s office stating Castille’s 1990 letter, when he was D.A., was a personal view and had no level of influence to the judge at the time.
In a new opinion, which further expounds on his December ruling, Tucker details the letter does evoke unlawful bias.
“Our system of laws, rightfully so, endeavors to prevent even the appearance of bias,” Tucker wrote. “An unconstitutional appearance of bias and would lead a significant minority of the lay community to reasonably question Justice Castille’s impartiality.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, must now decide if it will take Abu-Jamal’s new appeal and consider granting him a new trial.
Judith Ritter, lawyer for Abu-Jamal, supports Tucker’s belief and the decision to grant an appeal. She told the Tribune that it “clarifies even more that Judge Tucker’s decision is correct.”
Krasner’s office is continuing to oppose Tucker’s opinion stating the case would set a precedent of “any lead prosecutor who becomes a judge to recuse in every case that was pending in that person’s office when the-now-judge was the lead prosecutor.”