Petition Delivered to Philly DA Calling for Fair Appeal for Mumia

The organization Roots Action has delivered a petition signed by 6700 people from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, across the country and around the world,  to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, demanding that Mumia Abu-Jamal be allowed to re-argue his original appeal of his conviction to the state’s highest court.

The petition, which can still have names added, states:

Dear District Attorney Krasner:

As you know, respected human rights groups like Amnesty International have criticized the 1982 trial that convicted Mumia Abu-Jamal – as well as the corrupted appeals process that followed. Amnesty pointed to racial bias at the trial and “possible political influences that may have prevented him from receiving an impartial and fair hearing.” Since that tainted trial, Mr. Abu-Jamal has spent roughly 37 years in prison, much of it on death row in solitary confinement.

After [Pennsylvania Common Pleas] Judge Leon Tucker recently granted Mr. Abu-Jamal the right of appeal based on the appearance of bias in the appeals process, we were dismayed to hear you have decided to challenge Judge Tucker’s decision, apparently over concern that it might open the way for appeals by other less prominent convicted prisoners.

We urge you to drop your appeal of Judge Tucker’s ruling – and we ask you: Given the racial, judicial and political biases that have tarnished Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case from day one, isn’t nearly four decades behind bars more than enough?


Here’s the back story. In 1982 Abu-Jamal was tried and convicted by a panel of 9 white and three black jurors of the 1981 murder of white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The trial at the time, under the notoriously pro-prosecution Judge Albert Sabo, was widely condemned as a travesty of justice, with the judge siding with the prosecution at every turn, even refusing to delay the trial in order to hear crucial testimony from a defense witness, a police officer whose written report the night of the hospital contradicted the testimony of police who had claimed Abu-Jamal had “shouted out” a confession in the hospital emergency room.

A few years later, as Abu-Jamal’s legal team was appealing his conviction and his death sentence, it was the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office that was responsible for fighting that appeal. The DA at that point was Ronald Castille, a Republican prosecutor who ran for election on a tough law-and-order platform of supporting the death penalty and who for four years oversaw that high-profile legal battle by his office’s appellate team.

The legal issue now is that after leaving the DA’s office after one term, Castille was appointed to a seat on the bench of Pennsylvania’s highest court, eventually rising to the position of Chief Justice before retiring in 2014.

Castille was a Supreme Court Justice when Abu-Jamal’s appeal of his Post Conviction Relief Act hearing — which was presided over and had its findings rejected by the same Judge Sabo — as well as several other of his PCRA hearings, also rejected, reached the high court for review. Abu-Jamal’s legal team requested that Castille recuse himself from those appeals saying that there was a conflict of interest because of his early role in fighting them as DA, but Castille refused to do so, insisting that he could consider the issues fairly.

Earlier this year, in an appeal of that failure to recuse, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker ruled that even if no documentary evidence could be found proving that Castille had played an active role in the legal effort to defeat Abu-Jamal’s appeals, there was a clear “appearance of conflict of interest” in his dual role as prosecutor and later high court justice. Judge Tucker ordered that Abu-Jamal should be able to appeal all four of his PCRA cases before the state Supreme Court again, without Castille on the bench.

The only person or entity with standing to appeal Judge Tucker’s ruling is the Philly District Attorney’s office, which is now occupied by Krasner, a former civil rights and criminal defense attorney who has been actively trying to make the DA’s office focus on delivering justice instead of just winning cases.

While Krasner has already introduced a lot of progressive change into an office notorious for its aggressive locking up, and harsh sentencing of those it prosecutes — especially non-white defendants — declining to seek the death penalty and virtually eliminating cash bail measures that  had been for years used to lock up poor people awaiting trial for months and even longer, even when they were later found innocent — in this controversial and high-profile case he decided to appeal Judge Tucker’s opinion.

According to reports, Krasner and some of his key advisors apparently worried that the wording of Judge Tucker’s ruling could lead to appeals by all inmates from Philadelphia whose appeals, like Abu-Jamal’s, had been underway during Castille’s term as DA, and then were heard by a Supreme Court on which Castille was a sitting justice and didn’t recuse himself.

Critics of Krasner’s decision say it is legally and ethically wrong on two counts:  First of all, Abu-Jamal’s case is clearly special. As an internationally prominent and locally controversial prisoner whose incarceration, and earlier whose execution, has been strenuously demanded by the state’s politically powerful police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, there’s no way one can seriously believe ex-Justice Castille’s assertion that he played “no attention” as DA to how his subordinates were defending against his appeal of his conviction.  Secondly, Krasner of all people, as a former defense attorney and a man who ran for DA saying he wanted to restore justice to the office, should not be afraid of having those less prominent whose appeals might also have been tainted by Justice Castille’s apparent conflict in refusing to recuse himself from considering them, get a rehearing before a fairer Supreme Court.

That’s the point of the Roots Action petition which was delivered to Krasner’s office by hand a week ago with no response so far, and with no mention in the local Philadelphia media, despite press releases being sent to all major local news outlets, according to Roots Action co-founder and policy advisor Jeff Cohen.

Judge Tucker’s order is crucial to Abu-Jamal’s fate. After 37 years in prison, much of that time spent facing execution and being held in solitary confinement at the state’s supermax prison facility SCI Green, Abu-Jamal has exhausted his avenues of appeal, barring new evidence of innocence in the case and faces life in prison without parole. But because his PCRAs, especially his first one which was slapped down and so egregiously mishandled that even the Philadelphia Inquirer editorialized about Judge Sabo’s embarrassingly blatant bias, did present or try to present such new evidence but were prevented, by the state Supreme Court’s and Justice Castille’s summary upholding of Judge Sabo’s and other lower judge’s biased decisions, it is important that the appeals be reheard by a fairer Supreme Court panel.

Krasner, if he is serious about running a just DA’s office,  should listen to the 6700 or more voices calling on him to drop his appeal of Judge Tucker’s profoundly justified ruling calling for a new Supreme Court hearing on those PCRA appeals. And not just for Abu-Jamal, but for all other state prisoners whose legally mandated appeals of their sentences were tainted by Justice Castille’s bizarre and shameful refusal to recuse himself from hearing and deciding on them.

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
February 28, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Socialism Question
Vijay Prashad
Witnessing the Hell a Migrant Can Face
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Knives Out
Andrew Levine
Bloomberg: What Is He Good For?
T.J. Coles
The Space Force Becomes a Weapons System, Arms Companies Profit
Henry Giroux
Cult-Like Ignorance is Death: Trump and the Coronavirus
Paul Street
The So-Called Party of the People: From Nevada to South Carolina
Matthew Stevenson
Carolina and Super Tuesday on My Mind
Robert Hunziker
Forever-Chemicals Tap Water
Pete Dolack
No Thinking Please, We’re Red-Baiting
Nick Pemberton
If Bernie Sanders Is Unelectable, Then What The Hell Are The Rest Of You?
Jacob Hornberger
Immunity for Killings by Immigration Police
John Curiel – Jack R. Williams
Analysis of the 2019 Bolivia Election: No Evidence of Irregular Trends or Fraud
Ramzy Baroud
Israel at the Cusp of a Bleak Era
Ron Jacobs
Bloomberg’s Billionaire BS
Farzana Versey
Who Will Douse Delhi’s Flames?
Joseph Natoli
Dispelling the Darkness
Marshall Auerback
Boris Johnson, Not Donald Trump, is the Real Blue-Collar Conservative
Steve Early
VoteVets for Buttigieg:  Who’s Really Keeping Us in the Dark About Campaign Funding?
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Those Meddling Kids …
Arshad Khan
Trump Visits Modi and Delhi Erupts in Anti-Muslim Riots
Karen J. Greenberg
How Democracy Ends
Tom Clifford
Corona and Flu in Beijing: a Report From the Chinese Capital
Scott Tucker
Pete Buttigieg: The Energizer Bunny of Hegemony
Victor Grossman
Breakthroughs Against the Rightwing Menace in Germany
William Hartung
It’s Time to Debate Pentagon Spending
Seth Sandronsky
Struggling for Shelter: Resistance to California’s Housing Crisis Grows 
Daniel Warner
The UN, Homeostasis and China
Eve Ottenberg
Police Torture in Chicago
Kenn Orphan
The Ruling Class Will Stop at Nothing
Sean Reynolds
A Difficult Peace
W. T. Whitney
For the Climate: Protecting the Commons and Fixing Democracy
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Political Offences and Legal Restraints
Dedrick Asante-Muhammad – Jamie Buell
Does This Economy Work for Black Americans?
Tracey L. Rogers
Reflections on “Black Excellence”
Jill Richardson
Stop Calling Harmful Bigotry “Religious Freedom”
Barbara G. Ellis
Don’t Depend on FEMA to Save Us From Global-Warming’s Armageddon
Mike Garrity
Why We Sued Trump’s BLM Over Its Sagebrush-Juniper Burning Project in Montana
Christopher Brauchli
The Modi/Trump Anti-Muslim Alliance
John Kendall Hawkins
Science and the Turf Wars of Consciousness
John Peeler
Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Nicky Reid
Socialism Without Anti-Imperialism: A Different Flavor of Tyranny
Louis Proyect
Spies, Lies and Videotapes
David Yearsley
The Beef with Kobe
Andrew Stewart
How Netflix And “Manning Marable” Killed Malcolm X (The Third Time)