WASHINGTON—Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Pennsylvania political prisoner who spent more than 20 years on death row for a crime he insists he did not commit, moved closer to possible exoneration and freedom in mid-December.
The state’s Supreme Court dismissed Dec. 16 a challenge by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge Five and Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner who was killed on December 9, 1981, ruling that the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas must review several boxes of compelling new evidence of bribery and discrimination in jury selection discovered in the case.
Now, after a 9-month delay, evidence that former District Attorney Ed Rendell and his allies suppressed for decades will finally be heard in open court. The new evidence could result in a finding of innocence.
On two separate occasions, dating back to December 2018, several boxes of evidence of prosecutorial misconduct were discovered and are now under review by the court and a new district attorney. “They were allegedly found in the back room behind a stairwell in a mid-level floor in the DA’s Office,” Dr. Johanna Fernandez, associate professor of history at Baruch College CUNY and an authority on Mr. Abu Jamal’s case told The Final Call.
“These boxes have potentially exculpatory evidence: a letter written by one of the key witnesses of the prosecution literally asking, ‘Where’s my money?’ And a series of documents suggesting that the prosecutors were tracking the race of the jurors, (revealing) that they were attempting to illegally discriminate in the jury selection.” Mr. Abu-Jamal was convicted by an all-White jury, and his former prosecutor served on the state Supreme Court, unjustly dismissing several of his appeals of those injustices.
“There was judicial bias in this case, and because there was judicial bias, that a prosecutor turned judge should’ve recused himself in Mumia’s case, but didn’t,” Dr. Fernandez continued. Judge Leon Tucker ordered the courts “to open up all of the appeals in Mumia’s case, going back to the 1990s, because this judge sitting in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed and denied all of Mumia’s appeals because he had a dog in the fight, and he had prosecuted Mumia, so of course he wasn’t going to impartially review the violations.”
Judge Tucker said: “Yes, correct, I agree with the allegation on the part of Mumia’s attorneys that there was a conflict of interest (of) judicial bias. All the appeals in Mumia’s case issues can be re-litigated,” she continued.
Mr. Abu Jamal’s attorneys submitted countless briefs re-arguing issues that were unconstitutionally dismissed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court over the course of almost two decades—on account of a conflict of interest on the part of state Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille, a former prosecutor. When courts—including the U.S. Supreme Court—have found in Mr. Abu-Jamal’s favor, prosecutors have changed the rules, even dropping their appeal of a reversal of his death penalty, in order to avoid having their unconvincing evidence heard again in court, this time by an impartial jury.
Defense insistence going back nearly 40 years that Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed, that the witnesses were bribed and intimidated, and that he is, in fact, innocent of the charge for which he was convicted have more weight after this latest series of court rulings his supporters insist. He may finally be able to prove in court that he is indeed innocent.
“Correct. That’s the most important thing right now before us,” said Dr. Fernandez. “The review of evidence that suggests that witnesses were bribed, and the jury was selected carefully, so as to convict him because of its prejudices. It was an all-White jury. So those are the two issues that are before us: bribery of witnesses by the prosecution to finger Mumia, and stacking the judicial, the court room process with an all-White jury, to ensure conviction.”
The recently ordered evidentiary hearing is the first step to a new trial. Mr. Abu-Jamal’s legal team has consistently argued since he was arrested that he was really convicted of being an outspoken, pro-Black journalist, and Black revolutionary—not because he committed murder.
“Mumia has always said that he will be in prison until the people won’t accept his imprisonment anymore,” Noelle Hanrahan, founder of the Prison Radio Project, one of Mr. Abu Jamal’s earliest defenders, said in a statement to this writer. “We are the people, and we have to make clear our refusal. We know that it is police, prosecutorial, and judicial misconduct that has unjustly imprisoned Mumia and so many others.
“We must demand that corruption be revealed, and that the voices of its victims must be heard. We know that Mumia was imprisoned because he was a Black Panther, and we know that is unjust, and we cannot allow the truth to be buried, or for voices like Mumia’s to be silenced,” Ms. Hanrahan said.
Mrs. Faulkner, the dead officer’s widow “worked with the FOP to bring this petition to the court, has stated on the record that she believes Mumia Abu-Jamal will be freed if he ever gets a new trial,” a fair trial, Ms. Hanrahan continued.
The FOP’s strategy is to get the state attorney general to prosecute the case and to file every imaginable petition against Mr. Abu-Jamal and his defense team—including against the use of the recently uncovered exculpatory evidence—to forestall his inevitable release. “The original trial was so outrageously corrupt at every stage that there is little hope for a win in retrial. They simply want to delay a new trial until Mumia dies in prison,” she said.