Mumia Abu-Jamal (formerly known as Wesley Cook) murdered Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981. He was caught and prosecuted. The evidence against him was overwhelming. There is no doubt about his guilt. He was convicted by a jury and initially was sentenced to death, but his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment without parole in 2001. He exhausted his appeals long ago, and has been imprisoned since 1982.
Abu-Jamal poses as a leftist intellectual, and therefore, as so often happens, has become a celebrity. “Free Mumia” has long been a slogan on the American left. Despite his being obviously guilty, many progressives pretend, at least, to believe in his innocence.
Sadly, “Free Mumia” went from political slogan to potential reality last week, when a state court judge in Philadelphia ruled that Mumia is entitled to have his appeal–left over from the 1980s–re-heard by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Lawyers for Abu-Jamal praised the decision by Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker as a major step toward winning the former Black Panther’s freedom.
“This is an unheard of legal victory,” said Rachel Wolkenstein, former lawyer and longtime activist for Abu-Jamal. “This is the best opportunity we have had for Mumia’s freedom in decades.”
For years, Abu-Jamal’s attempts at winning a new trial were denied. In the latest legal argument, his lawyers maintained that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille should not have presided over Abu-Jamal’s appeals battles. Castille was formerly Philadelphia’s district attorney whose office fought to keep the activist and prolific writer behind bars.
The motion that came before Judge Tucker was predicated on a recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Williams v. Pennsylvania, 136. S.Ct. 1899 (2016). The Williams case, like Abu-Jamal’s, involved the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, which was headed at one time by Ronald Castille, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, on which Castille later served as a justice.
Williams holds that it is a per se violation of a criminal defendant’s due process rights if a judge who had “significant personal involvement as a prosecutor involving a critical decision in defendant’s case” is subsequently part of an appellate court that hears that defendant’s appeal. In Abu-Jamal’s case, Judge Tucker found that Ronald Castille did not have any “significant personal involvement” in Abu-Jamal’s prosecution. Therefore, there was no violation of due process under Williams when Castille later served as a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that heard Abu-Jamal’s multiple appeals seeking post-conviction relief.
However, Judge Tucker went on to hold that Judge Castille nevertheless should have recused himself from proceedings involving Abu-Jamal:
This court finds that recusal by Justice Castille would have been appropriate to ensure the neutrality of the judicial process in Petitioner’s PCRA appeals before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. As noted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Darush, recusal is warranted when “a significant minority of the lay community could reasonably question the court’s impartiality.” … Proof of actual bias is not required.
Because of Justice Castille’s participation in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision regarding the post conviction relief act, re-argument before that court would best serve the appearance of justice.
Judge Tucker’s decision is embedded below. Presumably the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will have an opportunity to rule on Tucker’s order, and only if they agree with it, proceed to re-review Abu-Jamal’s post-conviction petitions, 30-plus years after the fact. Judge Tucker’s order provides that no new materials will be submitted to the Supreme Court, but rather the briefs that were submitted in the 1980s will be reviewed by the current Court.
I haven’t investigated the current composition of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but it is hard to imagine how any group of judges could come to a different decision on the merits of Mumia’s appeal. He was guilty, and was shown to be so beyond any reasonable doubt. Still, in the era of Only Black Lives Matter, the extreme politicization of Mumia’s case raises the possibility that he may have the last laugh. Mumia Abu-Jamal might live out his days as a wealthy celebrity, highly paid to appear on television and lecture to college students, like Angela Davis. A liberal Supreme Court might think that advantage is to be gained by bending to the current political winds.
The most benign way of viewing this development is as an illustration of the liberal belief that due process means endless process. But liberals never seem to consider those who are on the other end of perpetual judicial process. Daniel Faulkner has been dead, murdered by Cook/Abu Jamal, for 37 years, but his widow has not forgotten him. In October, she had to be removed from Judge Tucker’s courtroom when he announced that he was granting additional time for Abu-Jamal’s appeal:
Maureen Faulkner stood up in court Monday morning and cried out to the judge who had just given her husband’s convicted killer 30 more days to appeal.
“With all due respect, your honor,” Faulkner said to Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker, her voice breaking. “I have another 30 days that I have to go through this pain and suffering?”
As sheriff’s officers pulled at the sleeve of her maroon sweater and pleaded with her to calm down, her voice rose toward the judge.
“I’ve been fighting back and forth!”
“Have a seat,” Tucker said.
“I have been fighting!”
“Please remove her from the courtroom,” Tucker said.
After Judge Tucker’s latest order, Maureen Faulkner was quoted from her home in California:
“Does it affect my physically? It does. Am I sick to my stomach? Absolutely. I feel like going and throwing up,” said Maureen Faulkner, the widow of the slain officer.
“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,” she said on Friday.
Faulkner, who now lives in California, said she has always believed in the principle of “an eye for an eye,” saying she wishes the original sentence of capital punishment had been carried out.
“And that way, 37 years later, you do not have the family members grieving over the loss of a loved one because the case keeps coming up in court and reminding them,” she said.
Liberals unaccountably view Mumia Abu-Jamal, a cold-blooded killer, as a hero. There is a hero in this case, but it isn’t Mumia. Her name is Maureen Faulkner.
UPDATE: From the comments:
I grew up in South Philly and know this story well. When I was a grad student at Arizona State in 2002, I was in line for a nightclub and the kid in front of me was wearing a “Free Mumia” shirt. I asked him what he know about Mumia and he proceeded to explain to me how the police set him up because he was critical of the police and the racist establishment on the radio. I proceeded to explain to him about how the altercation started, how Mumia was found shot, lying right next to Officer Faulkner, and how he was as guilty as sin. It was clear to me this kid had never heard any of the facts as I explained them to him, but his response has stuck with me since and will forever. “Well, he needs to be free to send the message to Bush and the right wingers that their racism will not be tolerated and even if he did it it was in self-defense and justified.”
My buddy saw my face and immediately grabbed me and said “let’s find a place less crowded.” My buddy knew that after I had a few, if I saw this idiot in the bar it was going to be on.
Liberals for the most part know he’s guilty. They don’t care. They want him free because they will love how angry people like me will get. That’s all they care about. And if Trump supporters are angry, all the better.
I think that sums it up pretty well. Bill Ayers’ “Guilty as sin, free as a bird” continues to exemplify liberals’ attitude toward our criminal justice system.