Mumia Abu-Jamal supporters rally in Center City
Protesters chanted and marched in Center City on Monday in support of former Black Panther and death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal as he seeks to re-appeal his conviction.
Inside the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia that morning, a hearing was held before Judge Leon Tucker regarding Abu-Jamal’s petition seeking to toss out his previous appeals so he can re-appeal his case.
Abu-Jamal’s petition, filed under the Post-Conviction Relief Act, argues that Justice Ronald Castille had shown bias and a conflict of interest in his case because Castille worked on Abu-Jamal’s appeals as a district attorney and later presided over his case while on the state Supreme Court.
Castille served as district attorney from 1986-91.
At Monday’s hearing, District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office opposed Abu-Jamal’s appeal, and revealed it was unable to find any document linking Castille to Abu-Jamal’s case while Castille served as district attorney.
“We do not see that [Castille] had any direct involvement in any kind of significant decision making capacity in the Abu-Jamal case when he was district attorney,” said Ben Waxman, a spokesman for Krasner.
Abu-Jamal’s petition stems from a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case, Williams v. Pennsylvania, where Castille was found to have failed to recuse himself as a state Supreme Court judge in deciding another death sentence case which he was involved in while he was district attorney.
Krasner’s office spent months searching its files in an attempt to find any document showing Castille’s involvement in Abu-Jamal’s case while Castille was district attorney, Waxman said.
Abu-Jamal’s next hearing date is scheduled for Aug. 30.
A call to Judith Ritter, an attorney for Abu-Jamal, seeking comment was not immediately returned.
After the hearing, scores of protesters, who had gathered outside the courthouse, marched on Filbert Street and City Hall, then congregated in front of the District Attorney’s Office before walking north on Broad Street.
Protesters bore signs and banners, and chanted “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, brick by brick, wall by wall,” among other things.
As protesters chanted around her, Rachel Wolkenstein, who had been a co-counsel for Abu-Jamal in the 1990s, said the hearing was a continuation “of the outrage of keeping Mumia, who is innocent and framed, in prison.”
Johanna Fernandez, a professor of history at Baruch College in New York and longtime advocate of Abu-Jamal, said Kranser is failing to right the past wrongs of the district attorney’s office.
“I expected [Krasner’s office] to grant Mumia relief because Mumia should not be penalized because the DA’s office can’t find a memo,” Fernandez said. “I think we need to pressure the DA’s office to respond to the people who elected him.”
Among the protesters was Saddam Kadafi, 30, of Los Angeles, California, who said the goal going forward will be to gather more people behind Abu-Jamal’s cause.
“The struggle continues,” Kadafi said.
Abu-Jamal, who was born Wesley Cook, spent nearly three decades on death row for his conviction in the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner; his sentence was reduced in 2011 to life without parole. Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the appeal of his conviction in 1989, his writ for judicial review in 1990, and later his two petitions for a rehearing the following year.
Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, flew out from California to attend Monday’s hearing, and was accompanied by family, along with officers and officials from the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5.
Mike Neilon, a spokesman for FOP and speaking on behalf of Faulkner’s widow, said Maureen Faulkner she was “optimistic and upbeat” after learning the district attorney’s office will oppose the latest appeal effort.
“Her life’s mission is that Mumia Abu-Jamal should remain in prison,” he said. “What’s crystal clear is the right person is in prison for committing this gruesome murder and execution of Daniel Faulkner.”