By JOHN LESLIE
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office continues to stonewall in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. At a court hearing on April 30, prosecutors failed, once again, to produce a memorandum allegedly signed by former Philadelphia District Attorney and retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille. Under the 2016 Williams v. Pennsylvania decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a defendant’s right to due process is violated if a DA, who played a role in their prosecution, is later a judge in the same case. At issue is Castille’s refusal to recuse himself from hearing appeals in Mumia’s case before the state Supreme Court.
At the April 30 hearing, presiding Judge Leon Tucker ordered the defense and prosecution to exchange documents on July 9 and Aug. 7. Oral arguments will be heard by Judge Tucker on Aug. 30.
At a previous hearing, on Jan. 17, Judge Tucker ordered the DA’s office to “produce former Deputy District Attorney Gayle Barthold McLaughlin to present testimony regarding the content of the [Castille] documents the DA’s office cannot locate.” McLaughlin represented the DA’s office during Mumia’s 1990-91 appeal before the state Supreme Court.
Prosecutors claim to be unable to find a memo sent from Castille to McLaughlin directing her to produce a status report on pending capital cases.
Another document demonstrating Castille’s involvement in Mumia’s case is a letter sent from Castille to Governor Robert Casey on June 15, 1990. In this letter, Castille urges the governor to sign death warrants in 16 Philadelphia capital cases in which the appeals process had been completed saying “ “I urge you to send a clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty actually means something.”
Mumia’s appeal before the United States Supreme Court was still pending, meaning that a death warrant could not be signed in his case at that time. The Castille letter indicates his direct involvement in the management of capital cases, including Mumia’s.
Castille’s repeated refusal to recuse himself from proceedings during Mumia’s appeals before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Mumia a fair and impartial hearing. This would meet the standard for a decision in Mumia’s favor regarding Williams. It is difficult to believe that DA Castille was not intimately involved in all aspects of Mumia’s case.
On April 30, Mumia’s supporters mobilized to pack the court to demand justice. After the hearing, a rally outside of the courthouse called for Mumia’s freedom. The rally was followed by a march of more than 150 supporters through the streets of Philadelphia.
The Fraternal Order of Police urged its members to show up in support of Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Mumia’s alleged victim. Faulkner wrote an op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer before the hearing urging District Attorney Larry Krasner to oppose Mumia’s bid for freedom. The police unions and Faulkner have been baying for Mumia’s blood for years.
Mumia, an award-winning journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party, was convicted of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1982. Castille, at the time a senior assistant district attorney, was involved in the original prosecution of Mumia.
Mumia was convicted of the 1981 murder of a police officer, Daniel Faulkner, in a frame-up trial with demonstrated collusion between prosecutors and the judge, who was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police. At the time of the trial, the judge, Albert Sabo, was overheard, by a white court stenographer, saying that he was going to “help them [prosecutors] fry that n****r.”
Castille also prosecuted Ramona Africa after the murderous bombing of the MOVE house on Osage Avenue on May 13, 1985. Police fired more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition and set off bombs in an attempt to drive MOVE members from the house before dropping a bomb onto the roof from a helicopter. Six adult members of MOVE, including founder John Africa, and five children were killed. Sixty-one homes were destroyed, and more than 250 people were left homeless. None of the cops or city officials who perpetrated this crime served a day in jail. One of the two survivors, Ramona Africa, is the only person to serve any jail time related to the police attack.
Castille also approved the production of a “training” video used by the DA’s office to teach prosecutors how to keep Black people off of juries based on the racist premise that Blacks were less likely to vote to convict other Blacks in death penalty cases.
Winning Mumia’s freedom is particularly urgent because Mumia’s health continues to be in danger. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has failed to adequately treat his liver damage, and a skin condition that causes severe itching. It’s clear that the prison system, which was thwarted in its attempt to execute Mumia legally, is trying to execute him through medical neglect.
Krasner the savior?
Larry Krasner, a long-time critic of police excesses, ran for Philadelphia district attorney as a reformer. He promised to end the death penalty and to reform the bail system. Liberals and the local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) chapter enthusiastically supported his election bid. Within days of his victory, Krasner was already mending fences with the head of the Fraternal Order of Police. He has already backed away from his total opposition to the death penalty.
Krasner promised to negotiate parole for juvenile lifers during his campaign, but judges have recently rejected several of these deals. Pennsylvania incarcerates more than 500 people who were sentenced to life without parole for offences committed when they were juveniles. Of these, almost 180 are from Philadelphia. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against life without parole for youthful offenders in 2012 in Miller v. Alabama. In a subsequent decision in 2016, the Court ruled that Miller should be applied retroactively.
Krasner’s advisory board includes Castille and former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson—an indication of the limitations the ruling class will place on Krasner’s attempted reforms of the criminal justice system. The inclusion of Castille on the Krasner team should be seen as a signal to cops and the ruling class that the new DA will not disrupt business as usual.
Mass struggle is necessary to win Mumia’s freedom. The fight to free Mumia should be seen as part of the larger struggle against the racist death penalty and to end the regime of mass incarceration. Workers and oppressed people can’t rely on the capitalist courts. Grassroots mobilization and organizing are the way forward in the struggle for justice. Mass action is what kept Mumia alive and out of the clutches of the executioner. The struggle must continue until Mumia is free.
Free Mumia and all political prisoners! End mass incarceration! Jail killer cops!