On Oct. 29, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal will be back in court in Philadelphia for yet another hearing. This will be the seventh hearing since April 2017 and the fifth since District Attorney Larry Krasner took office. Supporters are urging people to pack the courtroom on Mumia’s behalf and email and call Krasner’s office urging him to do the right thing.
The appeal for a new hearing stems from a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Williams v. Pennsylvania. That decision affirmed it was a violation of due process for a higher court judge, Ron Castille, to rule on a death penalty appeals case in which he played a direct or significant role as Philadelphia district attorney. Under Pennsylvania’s judicial conduct code, judges must recuse themselves from a case where there are reasonable questions about their impartiality.
As one of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court judges hearing Abu-Jamal’s appeals cases, Ron Castille repeatedly refused to recuse himself, despite requests by Abu-Jamal’s attorneys that he do so. He contends he signed appeals against Abu-Jamal “simply as a hands-off administrator” and that he knew nothing about the case — which is highly controversial, as it involved the killing of a police officer.
However, Castille campaigned for state Supreme Court judge as a “hands-on manager.” He boasted of his support for the Fraternal Order of Police, which helped finance his campaign. He also campaigned in favor of the death penalty, especially where it was used against people accused of murdering police.
Abu-Jamal’s current attorneys have now produced evidence of Castille’s involvement, including memos and letters he signed urging implementation of the death penalty in Pennsylvania capital cases involving police shootings. Documents show that DA Castille tracked the status of capital cases and that he sent a letter to former Gov. Bob Casey that “urged” him to sign execution warrants to “send a message” to all ”police killers.” Earlier this year, Castille claimed he had not recused himself from Abu-Jamal’s case because he was never asked to.
Smokescreen of ‘missing files’
Since Larry Krasner, formerly seen as a progressive attorney, took over as Philadelphia DA in January 2018, he has repeatedly stalled the process by claiming his office is unable to locate key documents signed by DA Castille that were referenced in evidence brought before the court. At the first hearing under his tenure, in January of this year, his assistant district attorney sought and was granted more time so a part-time paralegal could be hired to search several hundred boxes of files.
Since that hearing, Krasner’s office has repeatedly asked for more extensions, claiming they could not locate the documents. At the most recent hearing, on Aug. 30, they admitted that hundreds more boxes of files had been “found” and additional staff were hired to do the search. This smokescreen of endless searches is really a cover-up to mask the fact that proof of Castille’s role is clearly evident.
While campaigning for DA, Krasner stated that, if elected, he would investigate and overturn wrongful convictions. Throughout this stalling process, it is clear that Krasner, despite his reputation as “progressive,” has openly sided with the FOP and Castille, whom he appointed to his transition team.
Shortly after Krasner took office, Pam Africa and international representatives of the movement to free Mumia requested to meet with him to discuss the case, urging him to not oppose Abu-Jamal’s pending petition. After initially agreeing to meet, Krasner’s office then reneged, yet later met with Maureen Faulkner, widow of slain police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Krasner’s bowing to FOP pressure became clearer at the April 30 hearing when his office submitted documents to Judge Leon Tucker that disputed the relevance of evidence from DA files showing Castille’s significant involvement. Krasner’s office called for Abu-Jamal’s petition to be dismissed.
Representatives from the DA’s office in court for the April hearing went out of their way to assure FOP members present that they were on their side. At both the April and August hearings, members of the Faulkner family and the FOP were given preferential seating in an effort to keep Abu-Jamal supporters out. In August, even Judge Tucker got into the act by having court lobby staffers tell Abu-Jamal supporters that the hearing was postponed when it wasn’t.
Letter circulates denouncing Krasner
In the weeks leading up to the Oct. 29 hearing, Abu-Jamal supporters have circulated a letter to DA Krasner pointing out that “so far, your handling of Mumia’s case has been very much in line with the wishes of the Fraternal Order of Police and you seem to show no interest in opening up a case that has been denounced around the world as reflecting the worst of a racist and classist judicial system that finds poor people, and especially people of color, guilty and sentences them to the most extreme sentences.”
Signed by prominent individuals, including Kathleen Cleaver, Marc Lamont Hill, Soffiyah Elijah and Noam Chomsky, and organizations, including the Frantz Fanon Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild, the National Conference of Black Lawyers of Michigan and the War Resisters League — the letter calls on Krasner to “release all the police and DA files relevant to Mumia’s case, to stop fighting to close this opening in the case by insisting that there is no evidence of Castille’s significant involvement in Mumia’s case, when that is clearly not the reality.” (The letter can be downloaded at tinyurl.com/y7t3yw9a/.)
Beyond circulating the letter, supporters are asked to convey these demands directly to Krasner via email at [email protected], or calls to 215-686-8000. On Oct. 25, a press conference will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. outside Krasner’s office at 3 S. Penn Square in Philadelphia. On Oct. 29, demonstrators will gather outside the Criminal Justice Center at 1301 Filbert starting at 8 a.m. prior to the hearing.
Let Krasner know the world is watching out of its concern for Mumia and for justice!