On April 17, the decades long case of Mumia Abu-Jamal experienced another large shift as the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office decided to rescind their appeal of a recent court decision allowing the prisoner of 38 years to once again appeal his case. Abu-Jamal, who has maintained his innocence since a 1981 jury found him guilty of killing officer Daniel Faulkner, could be on a path to a re-examination of his case after a decision last December by Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker gave him more extensive rights to appeal. Since his conviction, Abu-Jamal, widely known as “Mumia,” has found himself at the center of an international movement that sees his trial and conviction by an all-white jury as representative of the larger racial and religious biases in systems of law across the world. The basis for this new appeal centers on the role of State Supreme Court Justice Ron Castille, who took an active role in the trial and subsequent appeals. Abu-Jamal’s attorneys argue that Castille’s refusal to recuse himself and not take part in the ruling brought an unfair bias to Abu-Jamal’s case.
This new right to appeal, brought forward on December 27, was met with strong opposition from certain Philadelphia law personnel. Specifically, District Attorney Larry Krasner appealed the decision by Judge Tucker, arguing that granting Abu-Jamal an appeal would open up too many cases that could be argued on similar grounds. On March 26, Tucker responded to Krasner’s appeal listing out a variety of beliefs and ties to organizations that prevented Castille from acting as an unbiased arbiter of justice in Abu-Jamal’s case. Specifically, Tucker cited Castille’s strong pro-death penalty stance, especially in response to the killing of law enforcement, and his ties to the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents and advocates for police officers. A 1990 letter also resurfaced in which Krasner encouraged a local official to rush death warrants on several inmates in order to “send a clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”
Krasner’s sudden change of heart, while strange on the surface, comes after months of protests and petitions. An open letter from over a dozen groups that had previously supported Krasner announced that they would no longer support the District Attorney after the appeal. In February, Yale rescinded their invitation to Krasner to give a keynote speech, formally inviting Mumia Abu-Jamal to take his place instead. In addition to thousands that, through letters and through physical protests at Krasner’s speeches, expressed their dissatisfaction with Krasner’s appeal, the pressure mounting against the District Attorney has swelled in the months preceding the cancellation of his appeal.
Proponents of Abu-Jamal’s innocence still continue the fight past Krasner’s retreat. Protests have continued to break out across the world, including one in Vernon Park, Philadelphia. Whether the appeal will change Abu-Jamal’s incarceration remains to be seen, but the results are sure to affect similar cases in the future and American law as a whole.
Brendan Lordan is a second-year student majoring in English writing. BL895080@wcupa.edu