In the decades since Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, attorneys for the former journalist and member of the Black Panther Party have filed countless appeals with little success. They’ll be back in court Monday morning for a hearing on what they see as a promising path to appeal.
The most significant development in recent years was in 2011, when Abu-Jamal’s sentence was commuted from death to life without parole. But his legal team is optimistic about the latest salvo, which involves former Philadelphia District Attorney and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille.
A 2016 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision found Castille violated the rights of one defendant, Terry Williams, by arguing for the death penalty when Castille worked as a prosecutor, then reinstated Williams’ execution order as a judge after it had been vacated.
“And that type of particular involvement makes a conflict of interest and deprives the defendant of a fair judicial hearing,” said Rachel Wolkenstein, Abu-Jamal’s former lawyer and a longtime advocate on his behalf.
Similarly, Castille fought Abu-Jamal’s appeal as Philadelphia’s District Attorney, then decided aspects of the case later when he was on the state’s high court.
“If there is justice, and if the court follows its own rules, which they have not done in Mumia’s case in the past, then yes, Mumia should be given new appeals and have an opportunity to litigate again and establish what he’s always said: his innocence,” Wolkenstein said.
Castille was connected with the case at multiple stages. He was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia during Abu-Jamal’s conviction in 1982. He was the DA in 1989 and successfully fought off Abu-Jamal’s appeal. Then, he was a state Supreme Court Justice in the 1990s and 2000s, when the case came before the high court. In each of those instances, contrary to the pleas of Abu-Jamal’s defense team, Castille declined to recuse himself.
While supporters of the “Free Mumia” movement — who have long held that racial bias, as well as police and prosecutorial misconduct tainted the case — plan to pack the court Monday, those who stand by the conviction will be present as well.
Daniel Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, will be in attendance as she has been at each new court proceeding over the years.
“I just think it’s one more last Hail Mary they have to try to disrupt the Faulkner family and my life, to try to keep this case out in the open,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner, who has railed against both Abu-Jamal and the justice system that has allowed the case to drag on, recently penned an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer pleading with Philadelphia’s new District Attorney Larry Krasner to fight to keep Abu-Jamal in prison.
Acknowledging Krasner’s history as a defense attorney focusing on civil rights abuses, Faulkner asked him to “set aside his desire for social and legal reconstruction and aggressively perform the duties of the job he swore to perform, and fight for all victims of murder and violent crime.”
Krasner’s office has said little about the case, only acknowledging that it is reviewing the claim regarding Castille’s involvement and a possible conflict of interest.
The hearing begins at 9 a.m. at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia.