Decision on Abu-Jamal’s right to file new appeal in murder conviction must wait

Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted in the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer,  gather Thursday outside the Criminal Justice Center where a judge was considering whether Abu-Jamal’s appeals should be reinstated. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted in the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, gather Thursday outside the Criminal Justice Center where a judge was considering whether Abu-Jamal’s appeals should be reinstated. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A Philadelphia man’s quest to appeal his 1982 murder conviction is on hold for at least another two months.

During a short hearing Thursday, Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker continued the high-profile case, which supporters hope will lead to a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. He is serving a life sentence for the murder of Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Oral arguments are now scheduled for Oct.29.

Abu-Jamal’s lawyers requested more time to work on the case after learning about a 1988 letter from a former Pennsylvania lawmaker to a former prosecutor who worked under then-Philadelphia District Attorney Ronald Castille.

The document, written on paper with Castille’s letterhead, discusses nearly a dozen death-row cases. Defense attorneys said it appears to be a response to an earlier communication between the two offices – potentially another letter from Castille himself.

“We have lots of questions,” said Judith Ritter, one of Abu-Jamal’s lawyers.

Abu-Jamal’s defense team has long argued the former journalist and Black Panther is entitled to file a new appeal because of a conflict of interest for Castille, who fought Abu-Jamal’s initial appeal while he was the city’s district attorney. Castile later ruled on aspects of Abu-Jamal’s then-death penalty case after he was elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The city’s district attorney’s office disagrees, and it doesn’t expect the newly discovered letter to change Abu-Jamal’s fate.

Castille is “not imputed with knowledge of everything that has his name on it,” said Assistant District Attorney Tracey Kavanagh. “This adds nothing to the analysis.”

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