DA ordered to release entire case file
In the latest development in a months-long judicial tug-of-war between attorneys for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker ordered on Sept. 7 the DA to produce the entire case file of Abu-Jamal’s criminal conviction.
Tucker ordered the DA to turn over all 31-plus boxes of prosecution files for his review by Sept. 21. While the DA will likely request a postponement and possibly attempt to appeal Tucker’s ruling, Abu-Jamal’s supporters see Tucker’s ruling as an important step forward.
In a breakthrough in the struggle to free Abu-Jamal, a new challenge to his 35-year-old wrongful conviction in the death of a Philadelphia police office was brought before Tucker’s court on April 24. NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorneys Judith Ritter and Christina Swarns argued that Mumia had been denied due process because former DA Ronald Castille, now a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, refused to step down from hearing state appeals cases in which he had been involved as a prosecutor.
The challenge to Castille is based on a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Williams v. Pennsylvania. In that decision, the Supreme Court held that the constitutional right to due process is violated when a judge presides over a case in which they had prior significant or personal involvement.
The next breakthrough for Abu-Jamal came on April 28, when Tucker ordered the DA to produce all documents relevant to Castille’s role as a top prosecutor during Mumia’s initial appeal process. In response to Tucker’s order, the DA released photocopies of a meager 50 pages of public record on May 30.
Again, on June 22, Tucker ordered the DA to comply, giving him a July 7 deadline and specific guidelines on the material to be produced. To coincide with this deadline, Abu-Jamal’s supporters rallied outside the DA’s office. They called on the DA to “open up your books” and brought poster-size copies of Tucker’s order so that people passing by could see the DA cover-up for themselves. Their action also exposed the history of cover-ups and corruption rampant in the Philadelphia DA’s office.
Continuing his outrageous cover-up, the DA responded to Tucker’s second ruling with requests for extensions and finally produced “new files” that were substantially the same old files.
In addition to Abu-Jamal’s challenge based on this ruling, 13 other cases involving Castille were heard by Tucker on April 24. He responded in four of these cases with the same order: that the DA turn over its case files for his review. In one case, an evidentiary hearing is set for Sept. 22.
‘DA’s office must be fuming!’
Following months of prosecutorial delays, Abu-Jamal’s attorneys filed a request for an evidentiary hearing that would allow them to question prosecutors involved in the case. Unfortunately, Tucker’s Sept. 7 order denied this. It also did not allow the attorneys any direct review of the files.
However, in ordering production of the entire file for “in camera” review in his chambers, Tucker is clearly acknowledging that what has been produced by the DA to date under court orders has been severely lacking.
Activist attorney Rachel Wolkenstein, updating the case for supporters, stated on Sept. 12: “While it is positive that the Judge has not accepted the DA’s position — that the prosecution’s records contain no evidence of Castille’s involvement in Mumia’s case — we are dependent on the Judge’s review and evaluation of what he finds in the files.”
Wolkenstein further noted: “There is every reason to assert that Castille was personally involved in Mumia’s prosecution — from the interest of the Fraternal Order of Police in his death sentence and conviction, to the constitutional issues raised in his appeals, including the racially biased jury selection. We have no reason to rely on an assertion of impartiality of the courts. The judicial record of review of Mumia’s case in state and federal courts, including to the U.S. Supreme Court over five times, left him facing execution for almost 30 years and has him now on the slow death row of life imprisonment. As much now or more, we need to make ourselves heard demanding Mumia’s freedom.
“In its own discovery responses, the DA indicated that its search for documents was incomplete and contradictory and they never fully disclosed which files they reviewed. The DA’s office must be fuming!”