Any hope that Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner would hold to his campaign promise to investigate his predecessor’s unjust convictions was shattered Jan. 25 when it was announced he would appeal the Dec. 27, 2018, decision by Common Pleas Court Judge Tucker to grant new appellant rights to political prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. It appears the new DA is the same as the old DAs.
The prosecutorial appeal of Tucker’s historic ruling, which followed a nearly two-year court case, pushes back Abu-Jamal’s access to new hearings over injustices in his 37-year-long case, but it won’t stop the fight for his freedom.
Abu-Jamal’s attorney Judith Ritter expressed her disappointment at Krasner’s decision: “We believe that Judge Tucker’s order will be upheld on appeal. The most fundamental right to due process guarantees that individuals are judged by fair and unbiased courts. We are very disappointed that DA Krasner has decided to challenge the conclusion of an objective judge that Mr. Abu-Jamal was denied this right. Krasner’s appeal only risks delaying our opportunity to make our case to an appellate court untainted by bias.”
Abu-Jamal’s attorneys have also notified the court of their intent to file appeals on at least four separate Post Conviction Relief Act challenges previously denied to Abu-Jamal, who has long maintained his innocence in connection with the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Too much justice
In a statement issued Jan. 28 on his appeal Krasner writes in part that Tucker’s “opinion has sweeping and, in our view, problematic implications for a large volume of cases, in addition to its effect on the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.” His words sound identical to the argument made by former Deputy DA Ronald Eisenberg, a Castille protégé, during the opening hearing on this appeal on April 24, 2017.
Closing his presentation Eisenberg argued against how much access to due process Abu-Jamal should receive. He stated that granting Abu-Jamal’s case would “be a huge impact” on the higher court and “at some point you just have to draw the line.” Christina Swarns, Abu-Jamal’s attorney at that hearing responded that the Commonwealth’s concern cannot be that Abu-Jamal might receive “too much justice.”
By denying Abu-Jamal justice, DA Krasner asks the courts to deny justice to hundreds of other prisoners as well.
While Krasner has chosen to narrow his argument to Castille’s role in the case, Abu-Jamal’s appeals can address the underlying issues that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge Ron Castille presided over, including the open bias of Judge Albert Sabo, a lifetime Fraternal Order of Police member, who not only sat during the original trial but was brought back to preside over Abu-Jamal’s initial PCRA hearing.
There is evidence that witnesses were coerced, pressured into committing perjury or just plain lied on the stand. Evidence that witnesses reported seeing a man fleeing the crime scene was suppressed. Earlier PCRA challenges also addressed questionable ballistics evidence presented by the prosecution in the original trial.
Hundreds more buried boxes
On Jan. 18, just weeks after Krasner revealed the existence of six hidden boxes of files linked to Abu-Jamal’s case, a “Supplemental Verification” from the DA’s PCRA Unit revealed that the files from Abu-Jamal’s case were among hundreds of other boxes hidden in the storage room. Whether these additional files were also not listed in the DA’s database bears investigation.
Krasner’s office followed up Jan. 22 with a misleading statement, asserting that a search of the newly discovered Abu-Jamal boxes proved that Castille had no personal involvement in the prosecution of Mumia as a Philadelphia district attorney. Krasner’s statement glaringly made no mention of the other boxes, nor did he acknowledge that Tucker’s Dec. 27 ruling granting relief to Abu-Jamal was based on Castille’s public observable bias, not just his signature on papers.
The Philadelphia DA’s office and police department have long histories of corruption and misconduct. Investigations of the Abu-Jamal case by journalists David Lindorff and Patrick J. O’Connor revealed that one-third of the police officers involved in collecting evidence in the 1981 case were subsequently convicted and jailed for corruption and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions. Countless cases, including that of formerly imprisoned Hip-Hop artist Meek Mill show these practices continue to this day.
“Upon taking office Krasner was subpoenaed to release a ‘Do Not Call’ list of 29 cops too tainted to testify in court trials,” said Mumia supporter, professor/filmmaker Johanna Fernandez in a Jan. 25 press release. “Former DA Seth Williams had a list of 77 dirty cops. The list of police scandals that disproportionately impact Black and brown communities goes back decades. In 1979, the Department of Justice investigation concluded that the level of tampering with evidence and homicidal violence against Black and brown detainees by Philly Police ‘shocks the conscience.’ Additionally, Prosecutor Joe McGill hid evidence in the original Abu-Jamal trial — the presence of a fourth person at the crime scene.”
The DA’s office reported that the six boxes in Abu-Jamal’s case contained “police paperwork, discovery materials, cassette tapes, trial preparations and jury selection notes, Internal Affairs files, PCRA preparation notes and materials, etc.”
This is evidence potentially favorable to the defendant that could reveal the extent of the police, judicial and prosecutorial frame-up. A court order from Judge Tucker issued Jan. 14 gave Abu-Jamal’s attorneys access to review the contents of the six boxes.
Justice demands that the contents of all the hidden boxes be fully disclosed to respective defendants. These discoveries cry out for an independent people’s investigation into decades of improper practices by the Philadelphia DA’s office.
Pam Africa, spokesperson for the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, said in the same press release: “Mumia has been inside 37 years for a crime he didn’t commit, 28 of those were spent caged on death row — a sentence obtained unconstitutionally, which is why he’s in general population today. We are demanding that the charges be dismissed and he be set free. What is happening to Mumia is happening to thousands of people in Pennsylvania prisons.”
The nearly two-year-long appeal, the unending protests, calls and letters about the case, and recent revelations of hidden files have served to greatly increase public awareness of this case. News of the possibility that the current appeals could result in his freedom even reached primetime television Jan. 22 on the popular sitcom “Black-ish.” Someone asks Dre, the character played by Anthony Anderson, “Why so happy? Did they just free Mumia?” Dre responds: “No, but I’m doing my part to make it better.”
The current legal battle in Abu-Jamal’s case has now opened the pursuit of justice in his case and that of many others. The genie is out of the bottle, and no amount of legal maneuvering by Krasner will put it back!
(Credit: Seth Tobachman)
(Credit: Seth Tobachman)