On Friday, a Philadelphia judge reinstated appeal rights to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther who has been imprisoned since 1982 for fatally shooting an officer.
According to WHYY, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker agreed with Abu-Jamal’s lawyers that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille shouldn’t have presided over the 64-year-old’s multiple appeals. Castille was a former district attorney whose office actively worked to keep Abu-Jamal behind bars.
While Abu-Jamal can now reargue his appeal, Judge Tucker wrote in his 37-page decision that there wasn’t any evidence that Castille had “personal significant involvement” in Abu-Jamal’s case during his time with the District Attorney’s Office.
“Judge Tucker recognized the unconstitutional bias involved with Justice Castille’s sitting on the prior post-conviction appeals, and the need for a new appeal untainted by such bias. This was a straightforward application of federal and Pennsylvania law requiring cases to be decided by judges whose impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned,” Abu-Jamal’s lawyer, Judith L. Ritter, said in a statement issued to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Abu-Jamal remains jailed for the December 9, 1981, shooting death of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, 25, at 13th and Locust Streets in Philadelphia. The writer and ex-Panther has maintained his innocence as his contentious case continues to garner international attention.
Advocates for Abu-Jamal believe he exhausted his final appeal when, in 2012, the Supreme Court denied an appeal disputing the validity of forensic evidence which was used to convict him. WHYY noted that Abu-Jamal was on death row until 2011, when prosecutors agreed to life without parole after providing flawed instructions to the jury during his execution trial.
Lawyers and activists have lobbied accusations of torture in recent years, claiming the controversial prisoner is being denied medical care. For instance, Ebony reported in March 2015 that Abu-Jamal was suffering a “medical crisis” when prison and hospital officials denied family visitation and declined to provide family and lawyers information regarding his condition. In September 2016, The Guardian reported that a federal judge rejected his request for a life-saving, and costly, hepatitis C treatment.
The Inquirer reported that Abu-Jamal’s legal team filed the appeal shortly after the Supreme Court’s 2016 handling of Williams v. Pennsylvania, where they found “if a judge served as a prosecutor and then the judge, there is no separate analysis or determination required by the court, there is a finding of automatic bias and a due process violation.”
Faulkner’s family reportedly expressed anger at Friday’s decision and said they plan to ask Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner to contest the ruling.
“Does it affect me physically? It does. Am I sick to my stomach? Absolutely. I feel like going and throwing up,” the widow of the fallen officer, Maureen Faulkner, said in a statement to WHYY.
“Jamal may be confined to a prison, but we are in a prison in our own mind, because we never know when we’re going to get telephone calls saying something like we heard last night.”
[Featured image: Mumia Abu-Jamal/AP Photo/Jennifer E. Beach, File; Daniel Faulkner/AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File]