For the second time, Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker ordered the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on June 22 to release its files pertaining to any role played by former District Attorney Ronald Castille in the case of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
As Tucker decreed in the court’s initial order on April 28: “[T]he discovery production shall include any and all documents or records in the possession or control of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office” that show Castille’s “personal involvement in the case.” It said records should include but not be limited to memoranda regarding this case during pretrial, trial, post-trial and direct appeal proceedings.
The order also covered any notes or memoranda on meetings between Castille and his staff regarding the case, as well as press releases or other public statements by Castille about the case.
During his tenure as DA, Castille ran for election to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. His campaign rhetoric made repeated references to his role in bringing about dozens of death row convictions, as well as his strong support for the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP, notorious for urging Abu-Jamal’s execution, was a major Castille campaign donor.
Castille had been assistant DA at the time of Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial, and was Philadelphia DA when his office opposed Abu-Jamal’s direct appeals in 1988. Abu-Jamal’s current discovery petition concerns the fact that Castille, then a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, refused to recuse himself when the case came before his bench.
In June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark decision in Williams v. Pennsylvania that judges must remove themselves from any case they had a hand in prosecuting. Castille was the DA and later state Supreme Court judge in the Williams case. Currently, 14 Pennsylvania prisoners, including Abu-Jamal, are fighting for appeals on similar grounds.
In response to Tucker’s initial order, the DA’s office released a meager 50 pages of public record, continuing their outrageous cover-up. Tucker’s latest order gives the DA until July 7 to comply or face sanctions.
All out for July 7 Philly protest
Supporters of Abu-Jamal will rally outside the Philly DA’s office at noon on July 7 demanding it give up the files. Demonstrators will have blown-up, poster-size copies of Tucker’s order so that passersby can see the DA cover-up for themselves. They are also urging people to continue a phone-in campaign to first assistant DA Kathleen Martin, at 215.686.8000, with the message: “I’m calling regarding Judge Tucker’s ruling about discovery in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appellate cases. The DA’s office needs to release all his files immediately.”
The Philadelphia DA’s office has a history of cover-up and corruption. It has also served as an important launchpad for political careers, including those of Castille and former DA Ed Rendell, who subsequently became mayor of Philadelphia, governor of Pennsylvania and head of the Democratic Party’s National Committee. Former DA Lynne Abraham, known as the “death penalty queen of the world,” was responsible for issuing warrants that police used to launch their deadly attack on the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in 1985.
The most recent scandal to rock the foundations of the DA’s office was the high-profile trial of current DA Seth Williams on several counts of corruption and fraud. Among the charges he faced was taking money — intended to pay for his aging mother’s nursing home bills — to finance his own lavish lifestyle.
In a surprising turn of events, Williams pled guilty to one count on June 29. The judge immediately revoked his bail, sending Williams directly to federal prison to await sentencing in October. With all the evidence against him, Williams likely took the plea deal to seriously reduce the potential 20-year sentence.
Elected as DA in November 2009, Williams had adamantly held out for two years against a federal Supreme Court order to release Mumia Abu-Jamal from death row. He finally announced in December 2011 that his office would no longer appeal the ruling or seek the death sentence.
The humanitarian thing to do at that time would have been to release an innocent man who had been unjustly jailed and tortured for 30 years. Instead, Williams stood with the widow of the police officer whom Abu-Jamal had been accused of shooting as she publicly called for Abu-Jamal’s death.
Evidence increasingly supports Abu-Jamal’s claims that racism, corruption and judicial misconduct at all stages of his trial were the reasons he was convicted. Now, with the chance of a legal victory that could potentially release him, it is more important than ever to be in the streets to demand “Free Mumia now!”