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  • Mumia Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration.

    Mumia Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration. | Photo: Dubdem Difusora Cultural, Flickr

Published 28 December 2018

Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panthers and journalist, will have a shot at a new trial that could lead to his release.

In a split ruling over judicial bias Thursday, a Philadelphia judge has reinstated appeal rights to former Black liberation activist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a city police officer more than 30 years ago. Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration.

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Judge Leon Tucker ruled Thursday that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille should not have presided over Abu-Jamal’s appeals battles and should have recused himself due to judicial bias. As Philadelphia’s district attorney, Castille not led the fight to keep Abu-Jamal in prison.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther Party member, well-known journalist, and activist was convicted in 1982 for the alleged murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. 

Prosecutors claimed that the murder occurred when Mumia saw Faulkner stopping and questioning his brother William Cook. Abu-Jamal allegedly ran towards the officer shooting.

Police came to the crime scene and found Faulkner and Abu-Jamal bleeding. They took Mumia to the hospital and detained him immediately afterward.

Several people have testified against him, claiming he’s the man they saw shooting Faulker. Some have said they saw a third man shooting and running. Others have confessed to the murder, saying they were acting as hit men for the police, who commissioned them to get rid of Faulker for interfering with corrupt businesses.

Mumia, now 64 years old, was on death row between 1982 and 2011 when prosecutors called off the capital punishment case against him due to flawed jury instructions. They instead decided on a life sentence. 

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Mumia demanded Castille recuse himself from hearing his post-conviction appeals from 1996 to 1998 and again in 2002, but Castille refused and the state's Supreme Court ignored his petition despite the fact that Castille was personally and politically involved in the case until 2014.

Last year, Philadelphia Judge Leon W. Tucker demanded the District Attorney's (D.A.) office release every document and memo regarding former D.A. Ronald Castille's involvement in Mumia's case after the United States Supreme Court  ruled in the 2016 Williams v. Pennsylvania case that all judges should remove themselves from any case in which they had been previously involved as prosecutors.

The ruling states “it is a violation of the due process right to an impartial tribunal free of judicial bias if a judge participating in a criminal appeal had 'a significant personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision' in a defendant’s case.”

The decision allowed Abu-Jamal's defense to argue Castille’s participation in the case was unconstitutional and biased, paving the way for new appeals. 

Mumia’s case is emblematic of a racially biased judicial system. In 1980s Philadelphia, police targeted African Americans on the streets, and black jurors were systematically barred from trials. Castille himself endorsed the production of a training videotape on how to keep African Americans from juries during his time as District Attorney.

Little has changed and Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case remains relevant today.

Since he was first imprisoned, Mumia became an outspoken voice against the U.S. judicial and prison system, which he claims has always been racially biased. His demand for a new trial is supported by many, including Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela, Toni Morrison, and Desmond Tutu. According to an Amnesty International report, “Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in 1982 after a trial that failed to meet international standards."

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