Mumia Abu-Jamal Can Appeal Murder Charge, Philly Judge Says

Former Black Panther and radio reporter Mumia Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence for the murder of a police officer, but can now proceed with an appeal hearing. On April 17, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner dropped his challenge to the judge’s ruling that Abu-Jamal could pursue an appeal of his case.

A Philadelphia judge allowed 64-year-old Abu-Jamal to renew his initial appeal after the Supreme Court ruled that former Chief Justice Robert Castille of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should have recused himself from the appeal of a death-row inmate, identified as Terrance Williams, whose sentencing he had overseen. Abu-Jamal pushed to appeal his own sentencing, arguing that Castille should have recused himself after serving as a prosecutor in his murder case. Abu-Jamal was found guilty of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, 25, on December 1981. Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death in 1982, but the sentence was overturned in 2011 following incorrect jury instructions, TIME reported.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Krasner’s office found six previously undisclosed boxes in its archives, which included a June 1990 letter from Castille to then-Governor Robert Casey, requesting that the governor issue death warrants in cases where police officers were killed. Krasner initially challenged Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker’s decision over concerns that the “overly broad language” of the opinion would reopen a large number of convictions. In Wednesday’s ruling, Krasner said his concerns had been addressed by Tucker in a new ruling.

“Our decision to withdraw the appeal does not mean Mr. Abu-Jamal will be freed or get a new trial. It means that he will have the appeals that Justice Castille participated in...reconsidered by a new group of appellate court judges, untainted by former Chief Justice Castille’s participating in their decision,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement.

Krasner’s office did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for further comment. Some groups applauded Krasner’s decision. Prison abolitionist group Amistad Law Project said Krasner’s decision showed his commitment to individualized justice.

“The Fraternal Order of Police will almost certainly protest this decision—but voters who fought to end mass incarceration in Philadelphia and to shed light on over-policing in Black and Brown communities stand together with DA Krasner. We hope this is a step towards the day when Mr. Abu-Jamal has his day in court and can be free,” Amistad Law Project said in a statement shared on Twitter. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, was “devastated” by the latest development. She said that Krasner and two of his prosecutors had failed to tell her about his decision until after it was announced publicly. She said she learned of the news after walking her dogs for a few hours on Wednesday morning, out of cellphone range.

“I was just crying my eyes out, once again,” the 62-year-old told TIME. “What about the survivors? What about victims in Philadelphia, and how they’re notified?”

But Abu-Jamal’s attorney told the newspaper that his defense team were “very pleased” by Krasner’s decision. “The DA’s decision is in the interests of justice,” lawyer Judith Ritter said. “We look forward to having our claims of an unfair trial heard by a fair tribunal.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.