By MICHAEL SCHREIBER
— PHILADELPHIA — Oral arguments on behalf of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal will take place here on Aug. 30 before Judge Leon Tucker of the city and county Court of Common Pleas. Defense activists plan to fill the courtroom and to demonstrate outside to demand a new trial for Mumia and his freedom. Socialist Action urges all supporters of civil liberties to come to Philadelphia to join the Aug. 30 protest, starting at 8 a.m. at 1301 Filbert St.
Mumia, an award-winning journalist and Black movement activist, was convicted in a notoriously biased frame-up trial of murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. He has remained in prison for over 36 years, and has suffered recently from medical problems that were allowed to go untreated.
The Williams v. Pennsylvania decision in the U.S. Supreme Court provided an opening for attorneys to appeal Mumia’s conviction. In 2016, Terrance Williams argued successfully that Judge Ronald Castille, who was on the bench in appeals of Williams’ murder conviction in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, had also been personally involved in prosecution of his case years earlier as Philadelphia district attorney. In the court victory, Williams’ death sentence was vacated.
On similar grounds, Mumia’s attorneys have filed appeals stating that Judge Castille had been personally involved in his case, when as district attorney he worked to uphold Mumia’s conviction. At an April 30, 2018, court hearing, however, the prosecution stated that they had found no evidence corroborating Castille’s prior involvement in the case.
This indicates that the office of current DA Larry Krasner will oppose Mumia’s petition to throw out the state Supreme Court’s denial of his appeals, which would allow him to re-file an appeal. Krasner attracted national attention when he ran as a liberal “reformer” during his campaign for district attorney a year ago, but has shown no inclination to look very deeply into the racism and judicial prejudice surrounding Mumia’s case.
Judge Tucker told Mumia to file an amended petition based on new evidence released by the prosecution during the “discovery” process. That petition, which was filed on July 9, will be argued on Aug. 30. Mumia is represented by attorneys Judith Ritter, professor at the Widener School of Law, and Samuel Spital, of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The petition states that documents newly released by the prosecution show that Ronald Castille, as Philadelphia district attorney, participated in a critical decision to expedite issuing warrants for execution, particularly for those who were convicted as “police killers.” That is the category Mumia was placed in.
The petition points out that the new evidence includes a June 15, 1990, letter from Castille to Gov. Robert Casey “imploring him to sign and issue death warrants in such cases. … The letter represented the culmination of several months of Mr. Castille soliciting information about the status of Philadelphia’s capital cases, including Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case. … Castille urged the Governor to ‘send a clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.’”
The prosecution has stated that because the June 1990 letter did not specifically name Mumia, it cannot be used as evidence of Castille’s personal involvement in the case. The amended petition by the defense has responded by making it clear that Castille’s urging the governor to sign death warrants undoubtedly applied to Mumia—who was the subject of the most known and publicized case of an alleged “police killer.”
Whether the prosecution bothered to find and release all of the documents that might establish Castille’s involvement in Mumia’s case is not known. The petition also pointed out, “While not necessary for Mr. Abu-Jamal to prevail in this Petition, a letter to the Governor about signing a warrant for Mr. Abu-Jamal’s execution could very well be amongst documents that have not been found by the Commonwealth.”
Attorney Rachel Wolkenstein commented in a memo sent to supporters of Mumia’s defense: “It is without a doubt that the District Attorney’s office has suppressed and/or destroyed documents showing Castille’s personal involvement in Mumia’s case—direct input into legal arguments against Mumia’s appeal claims, tracking the status of his direct appeal and seeking a death warrant against Mumia and seeking his execution.
“The prosecutors who worked on Mumia’s case for decades—specifically Ronald Eisenberg and Hugh Grant—have known since the Williams decision that Mumia would make a new challenge to Castille’s bias in denying his appeals. They left the DA’s office before Krasner assumed his position as District Attorney. No attempt was made to review their personal file. Nor was there an attempt to review Castille’s files.
“Significantly the prosecution absurdly argues that Castille’s involvement in tracking capital cases and attempting to expedite death warrants, particularly in cases of those convicted as “police killers,” does not apply to Mumia. With that conclusion, the prosecution opposes Mumia’s petition. The prosecution has taken a political decision, not a legal one. Krasner’s office continues the frame-up conviction of Mumia.”