By Gregory Muhammad
This writer was able to get inside of the courtroom for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s latest hearing. Presiding Judge Leon Tucker is not at all favorable to Mumia, however, he expressed that Mumia’s hearing will be “done right,” and would not be rushed.
Mumia’s story: He was a Philadelphia journalist and former Black Panther Party member and unjustly convicted and sentenced to death row for the death of a cop in 1982. It was through the powerful work of the people’s movement that his sentence was changed to life in prison without parole. The Mobilization4Mumia provided the following issues regarding Mumia’s current legal challenge:
- Based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Williams v. Pennsylvania, Mumia’s initial petition was filed with Philadelphia Common Pleas Court in 2016. Philadelphia District Attorney Ron Castille sought the death penalty for Williams. Then as Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge Castille refused to recuse himself from hearing William’s appeal. This violated his right to due process.
- Mumia’s appeal petition was first heard by Judge Leon Tucker on April 24, 2017. In September 2017 Tucker ordered the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office to turn over all the files from Mumia’s case. The latest hearing was held Oct. 29.
- An initial search of 32 boxes of files uncovered evidence of the existence of a letter from District Attorney Castille to then-Gov. Robert P. Casey requesting he speed-up signing death warrants to “send a message to all police killers.”
- Since January 2018 six additional hearings were held under current District Attorney Larry Krasner, who angered many by appointing Castille to his transition team. District Attorney Krasner’s office has repeatedly asked for more time to search for Castille’s signed letter, missing from files. Krasner hired a paralegal to search hundreds of additional boxes and acknowledged more files may be missing.
- In late August 2018, Krasner’s office reported evidence of communication between Castille’s office and former Pennsylvania Senator Michael Fisher regarding promoting legislation to further restrict appeals of capital convictions. The evidence was a letter by a Castille assistant district attorney responding to Fisher’s request about the status of death row cases, including Mumia’s. Missing was documentation about who in Castille’s office Fisher made his request to.
- Yet it was known that on September 23, 1988, District Attorney Castille wrote directly to Fisher urging passage of an amendment to the death penalty law and conveying his fears about the impact of Mills v. Maryland, a U.S. Supreme Court case at that time. Castille raised concern that “Mills may lead to the vacating of scores of death penalties.” Mumia’s appeals not only contained a Mills claim, it became the basis for his eventual sentencing relief.
- Despite District Attorney Krasner’s office failure to find the missing records, there is ample evidence establishing that a reasonable observer could conclude Pennsylvania Justice Ron Castille harbored disqualifying bias against Mumia as a person of killing a police officer.
- The District Attorney’s office had a duty to preserve all evidence, including that favorable to the defendant. That they failed to do so is grounds for a positive ruling on Mumia’s appeal based on “adverse inference.”
- Mumia’s was the most important capital case in Philadelphia history. It lacks credibility for the Krasner’s office to argue that as District Attorney Castille, whose office aggressively fought Mumia’s appeals, was wholly uninvolved. In 1988, District Attorney Castille received a “Man of the Year” award from the Fraternal Order of Police which has arduously sought Mumia’s death. Mumia’s case also has an international following.
- District Attorney Castille’s focus on sending a message to “police killers” is clearly both bias against a particular defendant and a class of cases. It calls into question his ability to impartially hear their appeals. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that recusal is required wherever there is substantial doubt as to the jurist’s ability to preside impartially.
At the hearing, this writer noticed how the Fraternal Order of Police filled the courtroom and tried to intimidate Mumia’s family and supporters, but it failed. When Judge Leon Tucker ordered a continuance for Mumia’s hearing, the police officer’s wife, Maureen Faulkner, went into a tantrum. She was ordered out of the courtroom by Judge Leon Tucker. Remember, Judge Tucker stated to the court that he was going to do this right; that he was not going to rush through it.
Tommy Rowan of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about the outburst by Maureen Faulkner inside of the courtroom. He wrote, “With all due respect, your honor,” Faulkner said to Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker, her voice breaking, “I have another 30 days that I have to go through this pain and suffering.” Tucker had just extended the appeal hearing of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the fatal shooting of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981. Maureen Faulkner had flown in from California, hoping her long ordeal would come to an end. Instead, Tucker granted a 30-day extension to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys, who say they are trying to recover a document they claim helps to show that former state Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille violated Abu-Jamal’s constitutional rights when he did not recuse himself from appeal reviews.
Rowan went on to write, “After her exit, the judge said, ‘The courtroom is sensitive to both sides. … We are not going to rush to judgment in this matter.’ …. ‘So, just to be clear, no matter how long it takes, this court is going to do the right thing.’ ”
This writer thanks Student Regional Minister Rodney Muhammad of the Delaware Region for coming out to support the hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The NOI Prison Reform Ministry Delaware Valley Region will continue to support the hearings and report back to our people.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL IS INNOCENT: FREE HIM NOW!
Gregory Muhammad is the N.O.I. Student Regional Prison Reform Minister, Delaware Valley Region based in Philadelphia.