DA: New Mumia Abu-Jamal files show no sign of judge conflict

A group of two dozen activists briefly blocks traffic during a rally outside the Philadelphia district attorney’s office in December. The group is urging District Attorney Larry Krasner not to challenge a Common Pleas Court ruling that allows Mumia Abu-Jamal to file an appeal of his murder conviction. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

A group of two dozen activists briefly blocks traffic during a rally outside the Philadelphia district attorney’s office in December. The group is urging District Attorney Larry Krasner not to challenge a Common Pleas Court ruling that allows Mumia Abu-Jamal to file an appeal of his murder conviction. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Updated 2:40 p.m.

Philadelphia prosecutors say they’ve seen no evidence from newly found boxes of files in a former Black Panther’s police slaying case that a judge had a conflict of interest.

Mumia Abu-Jamal recently won a chance to reargue his appeal in the 1981 slaying because a state Supreme Court justice who sat in on the 1998 arguments had been the city’s district attorney during his initial appeal.

Current District Attorney Larry Krasner must soon decide whether to fight a city judge’s decision to give Abu-Jamal the new hearing. That ruling followed a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ordered a new hearing in a similar case.

In a letter to the court Friday, Krasner’s office said six boxes of case files found this month in a storage area include police paperwork, tapes, jury selection notes and discovery material. But prosecutors said there’s no sign that retired Justice Ronald Castille was directly involved in Abu-Jamal’s case as district attorney from 1986 to 1991.

“The Commonwealth did not find any documents showing D.A. Castille’s personal involvement in defendant’s case,” the letter said.

Criminal justice reformers, police union officials and others are eager to see if Krasner will challenge Abu-Jamal’s appeal, given his background as a civil rights lawyer and death penalty opponent.

Abu-Jamal, a taxi driver and radio reporter, was convicted of killing Patrolman Daniel Faulkner after the policeman pulled over his brother in an overnight traffic stop. Abu-Jamal became an international celebrity through his writings and recordings from death row on the U.S. justice system. His death sentence was later overturned over flawed jury instructions, and he is now serving life without parole.

His lawyers are also going through the boxes found in the storage area. Judith L. Ritter, a lead lawyer on Abu-Jamal’s appeal who teaches at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, declined comment Tuesday.

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This story has been corrected to say the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new hearing, not a new trial, in a related case.

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