Incarceration Nation

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Re-Appeal of his Conviction Goes Forward

Philadelphia District Attorney Krasner withdraws his objection to the new appeal process!

By Rachel Wolkenstein

The legal path to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom is again open! Mumia has been granted renewed ability to appeal his conviction. The Philadelphia District Attorney is no longer objecting to the new appeal process. The DA disclosed six boxes of hidden prosecution files on Mumia’s case to his attorneys. The court wins of the past several months were fought for in Philadelphia, and internationally in the on-going campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

On December 27, 2018 Judge Leon Tucker, Supervising Judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas ordered that Mumia Abu-Jamal is entitled to a new appeal to put the evidence of his innocence as well as the police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct behind his frame-up conviction again before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Judge Tucker ruled that Abu-Jamal’s due process rights were violated because Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille, who was the Philadelphia District Attorney responsible for fighting against Mumia’s first appeal of his conviction and death sentence, did not recuse himself from participating in Mumia’s appeal proceedings from 1998-2012.

Judge Tucker’s opinion insists every defendant has the right to an impartial tribunal—at trial or on appeal—that is not tainted by the appearance of bias or impropriety. This historic win for Mumia is relevant for all those held in the grip of this racist capitalist criminal injustice system and face trial or appeal judges who were previously prosecutors responsible for their convictions, or beholden to special interests, including the police, or made public statements committing to a particular prosecutorial outcome, such as capital punishment. Those judges must recuse themselves.

Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner, a self-proclaimed “progressive prosecutor” who campaigned to end mass incarceration, took office in January 2018. He continued in the footsteps of former District Attorneys Edward Rendell, Ronald Castille, Lynn Abraham and Seth Williams in line with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) to keep Mumia Abu-Jamal imprisoned till death for a murder he did not commit.

DA Krasner appointed Justice Castille to his post-election advisory board. Krasner opposed Mumia’s petition for a new appeal denying the existence of evidence of Castille’s bias. DA Krasner tried to get Judge Tucker to withdraw his decision and order for Mumia. When Judge Tucker refused, the DA filed his notice of appeal stating that Judge Tucker’s opinion was too broad—that it could have a “potentially devastating effect on hundreds of long settled cases.”

On April 17, in a concession to the international uproar against DA Larry Krasner’s decision to oppose Judge Tucker’s order, the prosecution withdrew its notice of appeal. The DA’s public announcement falsified Judge Tucker’s ruling, describing it as involving a “technical issue,” rather than a due process right to the appearance of judicial impartiality. Contrary to the representations of the DA Krasner, Judge Tucker’s March 27 supplemental opinion reaffirmed that his “decision still stands without modification.”

Nonetheless, DA Krasner’s appeal withdrawal means the prosecution will not directly obstruct Mumia’s renewed appeal process. Mumia’s new appeals won’t be delayed or threatened by a court battle over the legitimacy of Judge Tucker’s ruling. Mumia’s appeals can be filed and heard again.

Mumia’s renewed appeals encompass four prior post-conviction filings of over two dozen legal claims with evidence previously rejected by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1998-2012. This evidence lays bare that Mumia is innocent, that the police and prosecution manufactured the entirety of the case of Mumia’s guilt. The record on appeal establishes that Mumia was denied multiple due process trial rights. It also includes the evidence of the racial bias of trial and post-conviction appeals Judge Albert Sabo overheard by a court stenographer, “I’m going to help them fry the nigger!”

Judge Tucker’s grant of new appeal rights to Mumia and DA Krasner’s withdrawal of his appeal of Tucker’s order are wins for Mumia in beating back the national campaign by the FOP, which is supported at the highest levels of both major parties of U.S. capitalism to keep Mumia imprisoned for life.

But there is no victory for Mumia until he is released and walks out of prison!

Obstacles ahead

There are very real and dangerous obstacles ahead, from the prosecution, the police and the courts.

DA Krasner continues to oppose Mumia’s legal claims for reversal of his conviction, dismissal of charges or grant of a new trial. He promises there is no break from the decades-long prosecution position that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should uphold Mumia’s conviction.

“Our decision to withdraw the appeal does not mean Mr. Abu-Jamal will be freed or get a new trial. It means he will have the appeals that Justice Castille participated in deciding reconsidered by a new group of appellate court judges, untainted by former Justice Castille participating in their decision. The trial judge has ordered the Philadelphia DA’s office and the defense to re-submit the legal briefs done in the past…effectively setting the clock back to where it was in the past.” (Press Release, Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, April 17, 2019)

This means no new evidence can be presented by the defense. This means DA Krasner will not release to the court the corroborating evidence of Mumia’s frame-up and his innocence secreted in those six boxes of files “found” by DA Krasner on December 28, the day after Judge Tucker’s ruling. There can be no doubt that documents in those boxes prove, yet again—like evidence already presented in Mumia’s prior proceedings—that Mumia is innocent and framed! 

A key component of DA Krasner’s withdrawal of his appeal, allowing Mumia’s new right to appeal to proceed, is the promise that he will continue as prosecutor to cover-up the frame-up and work to keep Mumia locked up on slow death row (life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.)

The Fraternal Order of Police was pushed back but not stopped in their determination to see Mumia die in prison. A counter-organizing meeting will take place in Philadelphia. Maureen Faulkner Popovich stated:

“Larry Krasner promised my family and me that he would do everything within his power to keep my husband’s remorseless killer in prison for the rest of his life. We believe today’s decision not to appeal has broken that promise.” (New York Post, April 18, 2019)

The panel of Supreme Court justices who will consider Mumia’s re-appeal will be different justices from those who previously denied all of Mumia’s claims. But Mumia will not get an unbiased hearing simply because Ronald Castille will no longer be a judge in the proceedings. There is no basis to assume the appellate court will rule favorably based on the weight of the evidence and law in Mumia’s favor. As Mumia wrote back in 1989 after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his first appeal, “law is politics by other means.”

The victory of Mumia’s freedom will not be won without an ever-growing international campaign demanding Mumia’s immediate release from prison. Mumia is an innocent man. His frame-up conviction is based on police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct.

For over 37 years Mumia has been imprisoned for a crime police and prosecution know he did not commit. We now have a legal opening in the fight for Mumia’s freedom.

What is needed is an all-out international mobilization, igniting all those in opposition and struggle against this racist, murderous capitalist system and all its depredations. Winning Mumia’s freedom is part of the liberation struggle for us all.

Mumia is Innocent and Framed! Free Mumia Now!

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