[Pnews] A Path to Freedom? Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal Wins Chance to Reargue Appeal in 1981 Police Killing

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 28 12:30:56 EST 2018


  A Path to Freedom? Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal Wins Chance to Reargue
  Appeal in 1981 Police Killing

December 28, 2018

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

*AMY GOODMAN:* We begin today’s show with an update on a major 
development that could be the path to freedom for former Black Panther 
Mumia Abu-Jamal, the award-winning journalist who was convicted of the 
1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner but has 
always maintained his innocence.

On Thursday, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge ruled Mumia 
Abu-Jamal can reargue his appeal in the case before the Pennsylvania 
Supreme Court because then-Chief Justice Ronald Castille failed to 
excuse himself from the case due to his prior role as Philadelphia 
district attorney when Abu-Jamal was appealing his case. Abu-Jamal’s 
lawyers argued that statements Castille made about people accused of 
killing police officers indicated he should have recused himself. They 
cited campaign speeches and letters he wrote that called for the death 
penalty in such cases.

Abu-Jamal spent nearly three decades on death row before his sentence in 
the shooting death of officer Daniel Faulkner was thrown out over flawed 
jury instructions. Prosecutors then agreed, in 2011, to a sentence of 
life without parole. Judge Tucker’s decision on Thursday was split, 
because he denied Abu-Jamal’s claim that Castille had, quote, “personal 
significant involvement” in the case while he was in the District 
Attorney’s Office.

For more, we’re joined here in New York by Johanna Fernández, a 
professor of history at Baruch College-CUNY, the City University of New 
York, and one of the coordinators of the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home. 
She has been in the courtroom for part of this case and is the editor of 
/Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal/.

Professor Fernández, welcome back to /Democracy Now!/ Can you talk about 
the significance of Thursday’s ruling?

*JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ:* Well, this is a case that is important for Mumia 
Abu-Jamal but also for dozens of people sitting in prison in 
Pennsylvania. Essentially, the judge established that if there is 
prejudice in a hearing, the defendant has the right to a new hearing. 
And he essentially ruled broadly on the issue of judicial bias and 
impartiality in the courtroom.

That’s really important, because the Williams issue, which is the issue 
that Mumia and his attorneys presented, is very narrow. It essentially 
establishes that in order to get relief, you have to prove to the court 
that a prosecutor-turned-judge had previously been involved in a 
significant decision in the case. That’s a very narrow issue to prove.

The judge stepped back, and he said, “Well, we cannot prove that there 
was a significant involvement in a major decision in the case, because 
the DA’s Office lost the files.” However, it is very clear that this 
judge made comments in public that were improper, that he lobbied on the 
issue of law and order—in fact, he ran on this issue. He made statements 
about sending, quote, “a clear and dramatic message” to, quote-unquote, 
“cop killers” that the death penalty will be used against them. And all 
of these things, including the fact that this judge received funding 
from the Fraternal Order of Police, the same organization that in the 
1990s was hell-bent on executing Mumia, that essentially paints a clear 
picture of partiality.

*AMY GOODMAN:* So, talk about what exactly this means.

*JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ:* So this means that if the liberal DA of 
Philadelphia, someone who was elected on the issue of the horrors of the 
criminal justice system in Philadelphia, if he does not challenge the 
judge’s decision, Mumia will immediately be eligible to present all of 
the violations that he had previously presented before the Pennsylvania 
Supreme Court.

And those violations are many. They include the fact that Terri 
Maurer-Carter, a court stenographer, was overheard saying to 
another—overheard the judge in this case, Judge Albert Sabo, saying, 
quote, “I am going to help them fry the nigger.” It also includes 
another violation, that essentially the police tampered with evidence 
and manufactured evidence in order to obtain a conviction in Mumia’s 
case. It also includes the violation that the prosecutor hid evidence 
from the defense and from the jury. Essentially, there was a fourth 
person at the crime scene. And the presence of that person, at trial, 
was suppressed by the prosecutor, Joe McGill. So, these and many other 
violations, that essentially violated Mumia’s constitutional rights, 
were denied by Judge Ron Castille when Mumia presented these violations 
on appeal.

Because there was an impropriety in the conduct of Judge Ron Castille, 
because he was prejudiced, now Mumia is able to present all of those 
violations again. His case can be heard once again, and the violations 
connected to his conviction will be heard in court. This has not 
happened in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The courts have not allowed 
Mumia to really challenge, in a significant way, any of the violations 
connected to his conviction. They’ve only allowed his attorneys to 
essentially address the issues concerning his sentence.

*AMY GOODMAN:* So, the question is: Will the district attorney now, 
Larry Krasner, who’s considered this new generation of district 
attorneys around the country, has represented many groups, from Black 
Lives Matter to others, as a lawyer—would he appeal, number one, what 
he’s considering now? And if there was a trial, would he prosecute Mumia 

*JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ:* Right. Well, I think that the judge, Leon Tucker, 
essentially presented a case that will be very difficult for Larry 
Krasner to challenge. He essentially said, “In order for the criminal 
justice system to stand, justice must be completely just.” Those were 
his words. And it’s very clear in this case and in this issue of 
judicial bias that there was a “no justice,” that there was impartiality.

And so, there is going to be an enormous amount of pressure on Larry 
Krasner by the Fraternal Order of Police to challenge this decision. But 
at some point, the people of Philadelphia have to stand up and have to 
demand that Krasner do the right thing in this case, that he not uphold 
what is known as the Mumia exception—that judges and courts have been 
willing to overturn precedent in order to keep the facts in Mumia’s case 
from seeing the light of day.

*AMY GOODMAN:* In October, the widow of Philadelphia officer Daniel 
Faulkner was ordered removed from the courtroom after she protested the 
judge’s decision to extend Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal hearing. /The 
Philadelphia Inquirer/ reported Maureen Faulkner stood up and cried out 
to the judge, “With all due respect, your honor! I have another 30 days 
that I have to go through this pain and suffering?” she said. As she was 
ordered removed, she said, “Thirty-eight years! This is wrong!” The 
judge said the court was sensitive to both sides but wasn’t going to 
rush to judgment, and added, quote, “No matter how long it takes, this 
court is going to do the right thing.” Were you in the courtroom in October?

*JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ:* I was. It was a very dramatic moment in the history 
of this case. It was an important moment because, for the first time, a 
judge essentially said that the supporters, but also the family of Mumia 
Abu-Jamal, has a right to have this issue treated fairly in the case. 
That hadn’t really happened before.

At the very last hearing, we had another very dramatic development. The 
Fraternal Order of Police, Maureen Faulkner and the original prosecutor 
in the case, Joe McGill, were present. And they were allowed into the 
courtroom before anyone else. And when we were finally allowed in the 
courtroom, including Mumia Abu-Jamal’s brother, Keith Cook, who served 
in the military in the United States, the courtroom was filled with 
white people. And it was a completely Jim Crow seating. Essentially, 
Mumia’s supporters, the majority of whom are black and brown, including 
his family members, were forced to sit in the back of the courtroom.

So, this is really the atmosphere and the message that the Philadelphia 
establishment sent to the judge, that he should essentially be careful 
about the decision he was about to make. But the judge, in fact, ruled 
in favor of justice. And we are demanding that Larry Krasner live up to 
that standard, the standard that he promised the people of Philadelphia, 
a city that is known for imprisoning the majority of black and brown 
youth in the country.

So, Philadelphia is the city that imprisons the majority of black and 
brown youth. This is the city that has also imprisoned and attempted to 
silence the most important political prisoner in the history of the 
United States—essentially, the Nelson Mandela of our time. So, if there 
is a victory in this case, in the case of a man who has been demonized 
for essentially illuminating the truth about black oppression, about the 
predations of capitalism and imperialism, a man who is mild-mannered but 
is unwilling to compromise with justice—this is the reason why he’s been 
demonized by the police. If there is a victory in this case, the entire 
apparatus of criminal justice in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania and the 
country will be under the microscope.

*AMY GOODMAN:* I wanted to go back to 2013, when /Democracy Now!/ spoke 
to Mumia Abu-Jamal in a rare live interview 
from the prison he was in at the time, Pennsylvania State Correctional 
Institution Mahanoy. This was after an appeals court upheld his 
conviction in 2011 but vacated his death sentence. He had been on death 
row for decades. I asked Mumia Abu-Jamal what it means to no longer be 
on death row.

    *MUMIA ABU-JAMAL:* Well, I could, but I’d be lying, because I call
    this “slow death row.” “Life” in Pennsylvania means life.
    Pennsylvania has one of the largest “life” populations of any state
    in the United States. It had the distinction of having the absolute
    highest number of juvenile lifers of any state in the United
    States—indeed, of any jurisdiction in the world. So, that should
    give you some sense.

*AMY GOODMAN:* So, that is Mumia Abu-Jamal speaking in 2013. He was 
moved from—he no longer faces the death penalty. Life without parole is 
what he faces now, in general population. What about his health, 
Professor Fernández?

*JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ:* Well, about two or three years ago, Mumia collapsed 
in prison and was rushed to the hospital. He was near death. After six 
months of tests, medical tests, one of our doctors, who randomly went in 
and looked at Mumia, essentially established that he had hepatitis C. 
And as you know, hepatitis C is a deadly disease that affects the liver. 
But because treating hepatitis C and curing it costs approximately 
$100,000, the Pennsylvania prisons essentially decided that they would 
not treat Mumia or the approximately 7,000 other prisoners with hepatitis C.

We filed a suit, even though attorneys insisted that this was an uphill 
battle and we would not win. And we secured a victory, and we secured 
treatment of hepatitis C. Mumia is now cured of hepatitis C. But also, 
this was a precedent-setting ruling that has opened up the possibility 
for prisoners in Pennsylvania and across the country to get treated and 
cured of hepatitis C.

Mumia is doing better. He is back to health. He’s got many issues. 
Currently, he has a problem with his sight. He has glaucoma. And he has 
to get the best treatment, as do other prisoners. And so, part of what 
Mumia said is that life in prison is essentially a sentence of death, 
for him and for the thousands of other prisoners in Pennsylvania and 
around the country.

*AMY GOODMAN:* Well, of course, we’ll continue to follow this case, as 
now a judge has ruled that Mumia Abu-Jamal can appeal his case. We want 
to thank Johanna Fernández, professor of history at Baruch College, part 
of the City University of New York, one of the coordinators of the 
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home. She is editor of /Writing on the Wall: 
Selected Prison Writings of Mumia Abu-Jamal/.

This is /Democracy Now!/ When we come back, we’ll be joined by antiwar 
activist Medea Benjamin to get response on President Trump saying he’s 
pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria. Stay with us.


*AMY GOODMAN:* “Ball of Confusion” by The Temptations, lead vocals by 
Dennis Edwards, who passed away this year at the age of 74.

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