Another chapter in the fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal has opened as about three dozen demonstrators gathered Friday outside the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, calling for the release of more records in connection with the case.
Abu-Jamal, a former radio journalist and writer, is serving a life sentence for the murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
Over the years, city and international activists have taken up the “Free Mumia” cause as the decades-long debate continues over whether the 63-year-old on death row is a cop-killer or a martyr prey to the criminal justice system.
Now the defendant and the group Mobilization4Mumia are demanding documents connected with Ron Castille, who as a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, denied an appeal in the case. Castille was also a senior district attorney in the early ’80s.
The demands follow an April hearing on a new post-conviction relief act petition — basically, an indirect appeal of Abu-Jamal’s 1982 murder conviction. His attorneys have accused Castille of bias and conflict of interest, arguing that the former justice should have recused himself from ruling on Abu-Jamal’s appeals.
Rachel Wolkenstein, a political activist and an attorney for Abu-Jamal for 30 years, said, “I know the documents are there. But the DA’s office is going to keep saying, ‘no, no, no.’ And it’s part of a continual cover-up and a continual frame-up of Mumia, an innocent man.”
Cameron Kline, spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said the office is fully complying with Judge Leon Tucker’s orders.
“He directed us to supply documents that would show former DA Ron Castille’s involvement in the case, and we did that,” he wrote in a statement.
So far, the office has turned over about 50 pages of records. Abu-Jamal is seeking more documents, claiming those so far released have left unanswered questions. In response, the judge asked the district attorney’s office to provide verification of its search and results by Friday.
The office has requested an additional week, given the holiday and a massive shake up involving the recent conviction of District Attorney Seth Williams, Kline said.
Many Mumia activists are frustrated with the delay. Pam Africa, who leads the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abul-Jamar, claimed the office is not taking the records request seriously.
“They’re playing games again. But I’m saying, this ain’t no game-playing time. We’re dealing with Mumia’s life,” she said. “And his health is not good inside that prison, and they’re blocking every way that they can.”
In January, a federal judge ordered the state of Pennsylvania to provide Abu-Jamal with hepatitis C medications to treat an infection.
The judge’s order filed on June 22 requested records including, “memoranda regarding this case during pre-trial, trial, post-trial, and direct appeal proceedings; notes or memoranda regarding meetings between former District Attorney Ronald Castille and his staff regarding this case.”
The district attorney’s office has the next five to seven days to comply.