Supporters of former Black Panther and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal held a press conference on Jan. 15 to denounce the highly suspicious, delayed release of new evidence related to Abu-Jamal’s case by the office of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.
Addressing a room packed with media and activists in West Philadelphia, Mike Africa Jr., son of recently freed MOVE 9 members Debbie and Mike Africa Sr., and attorney Rachel Wolkenstein, who represented Abu-Jamal in a 1995 appeal, made clear what Mumia’s advocates have known for decades: Authorities are hiding evidence to keep this innocent man behind bars.
As Workers World reported earlier (“Philly DA reveals hidden Mumia files after court ruling,” Jan. 14), the DA’s office made the fantastical claim that on Dec. 28 — one day after Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker’s ruling granting Abu-Jamal new rights to appeal his unjust conviction — Krasner personally stumbled across half a dozen boxes filled with evidence related to the case in a previously “inaccessible” storage room while looking for office furniture in the bowels of the office building.
The boxes were marked “Mumia” or “Mumia Abu-Jamal” on one side and on the other “McCann,” referring to former Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann, who had close ties with the Fraternal Order of Police.
Larry Krasner and his assistants then kept this bombshell revelation secret for a full six days before officially notifying Judge Tucker and Abu-Jamal’s current attorneys, Judith Ritter and Sam Spital, that these hidden documents had been uncovered. They offered no explanation for the delay.
Midway through the press conference, it was learned that Tucker had issued an amended Post Conviction Relief Act order one day earlier so the Commonwealth must verify by a supervising attorney the location and status of boxes 1 through 29 referenced in the DA’s Jan. 3 correspondence. Tucker further stipulated that his court would maintain jurisdiction over the boxes and that previous discovery orders in April and June of 2017 would remain “perpetual.”
‘Evidence of cover-up of a frame-up’
Rachel Wolkenstein stated: “These boxes were secreted away. They were hidden. There’s only one reason you hide boxes. You hide them because you are hiding evidence of Mumia’s innocence … evidence of the cover-up of a frame-up.”
Tucker’s ruling hinges on the involvement of former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice and DA Ronald Castille, a virulent racist and hanging judge. Castille’s desire to execute alleged “cop killers” was so notorious that he became the subject of a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2016, Williams v. Pennsylvania, which set new legal precedent that it is unconstitutional for a judge to rule on an appeal in a case they were previously involved in.
As Wolkenstein explained: “Judge Tucker found that this has the appearance of bias and impropriety, and was as such a violation of due process rights to have what’s considered a fair and impartial tribunal whether at the trial level or at the appellate level. This is a very broad finding that goes way beyond Mumia.”
The ruling will allow Abu-Jamal to re-appeal his conviction before a new panel of the PA Supreme Court on all the issues that were brought up over 20 years of litigation, including being denied a jury of his peers when African Americans were excluded from the jury and being denied the right of representation — even the self-representation he requested.
Witnesses in the case were coerced, threatened or given promises to get them to lie outright about Abu-Jamal. Wolkenstein noted: “The U.S. Justice Department as well as then District Attorney Ed Rendell were absolutely personally and politically involved in the falsification of the confessions that Mumia supposedly made and did not make when he was critically ill and in the hospital and could not speak.”
Tucker’s ruling means that all this flagrant misconduct can be brought before an appellate judge. And it’s clear that Philadelphia DA Krasner has been withholding evidence that could aid in that appeal.
Black Panther Alumni Association member Paula Peebles; Deacon Matthew Smith with the National Action Network; Sister Empress Dr. Phile Chionesu, organizer of the Million Women’s March; and Rowan University Professor Sandra Joy also spoke at the press conference.
Peebles, whose organization supported Krasner’s campaign for district attorney in 2017, stated: “DA Krasner needs to come forward and do what’s right. When he was campaigning, he came to the African-American community for support. We were there when he needed votes, so Krasner, return the favor.” She urged people to confront Krasner whenever he speaks in public and demand he do right by Mumia.
Never before has there been more abundant evidence of the cover-up of the frame-up. The charges against Mumia Abu-Jamal must be dismissed immediately and our brother must be released. Every day that this case languishes in the arcane bourgeois legal process means another day has passed that an innocent man sits, sleeps and lives in a cage.
For nearly 40 years, Mumia has been the voice of the voiceless, echoing from within the darkest dungeons of this prison nation. The time has long since come for Mumia Abu-Jamal to be free, so his voice may be heard even clearer outside the walls that now confine him.