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Status report conference slated for Mumia Abu-Jamal

March 27, 2018 GMT

A status report conference is scheduled Tuesday morning for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for the 1982 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Abu-Jamal, an activist, former member of the Black Panther Party and former president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, was convicted of shooting Faulkner during a traffic stop.

The upcoming hearing focuses on possible bias and conflict by Justice Ronald Castille, a former district attorney who later became a judge on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

Abu-Jamal’s lawyers have argued that Castille showed bias toward Abu-Jamal because of his early affiliation with the Black Panther Party at the age of 15.

As a prosecutor, Castille prevailed in getting the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to uphold Abu-Jamal’s conviction and death sentence in 1989 and to prevent the U.S. Supreme Court from considering his case. Then as a justice, Castille participated in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s deliberations, agreed with the arguments he had made as district attorney, and denied numerous new legal challenges made in Abu-Jamal’s appeals from 1998-2012.

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Common Pleas Court Leon Tucker previously ordered the Philadelphia district attorney’s office to produce testimony regarding a missing memorandum written by Castille.

Rachel Wolkenstein, an attorney and advocate for Abu-Jamal, said if he prevails in Tuesday’s court action, the Pennsylvania state court appeal denials from 1998-2012 upholding his conviction will be vacated and appeal rights restored.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found bias in Castille from a 2016 case. The court ruled that Castille had violated the rights of defendant Terry Williams.

Castille was district attorney when he signed off on Williams’ death sentence, and approximately 30 years later he was on the court that voted unanimously for his death sentence to be re-instated after a judge tossed it out.

“The case Williams vs. Pennsylvania says that if a judge has previously been a prosecutor in a case with personal involvement in a significant political prosecutorial decision, that he should have recused himself from sitting as a justice,” Wolkenstein said.

“In Mumia’s case we tried to get Justice Castille to recuse himself several times and he refused to do that,” she said.

The case is currently being reviewed by the office of District Attorney Larry Krasner.

“My only update is that our office is still reviewing the files,” Ben Waxman, the district attorney’s spokesperson, said in an e-mailed statement.

“We have not reached the conclusion of our search yet and that will be reflected at the update provided at the status hearing. Given this is a pending case, I don’t have any additional comment at this time.”

A full court hearing will be held on April 30.

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Four witnesses said Abu-Jamal shot Faulkner after a late-night traffic stop turned into a physical altercation between Abu-Jamal’s brother and the officer.

Several witnesses had testified against Abu-Jamal, while his defense team still claimed his innocence. Abu-Jamal ended up receiving the death sentence in a unanimous decision by the jury.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied the appeal of his conviction in 1989, his writ for judicial review in 1990 and his two petitions for a rehearing in 1991.