18 January 2019

Mumia Wins Right to Appeal Frame-Up Conviction

Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent—Free Him Now!

After 37 years behind bars—30 of them on death row—class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has won the right to challenge his frame-up conviction for the killing of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. On December 27, Judge Leon Tucker of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas threw out the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions from 1998 to 2012 that rubber-stamped Mumia’s frame-up on the basis that one of its justices, Ronald Castille, refused to recuse himself. Castille had been Philly district attorney during Mumia’s first appeal of his conviction and death sentence in the late 1980s.

Judge Tucker was ruling on Mumia’s appeal based on the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision Williams v. Pennsylvania. In the Williams case, Castille as D.A. authorized his prosecutors to seek the death penalty. When Terrance Williams later appealed, Castille was among the judges on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court who affirmed the conviction and sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court held that Castille’s “significant, personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision in the defendant’s case” raised “the risk of actual bias in the judicial proceeding.”

In his decision, Tucker cites Castille’s boasting of being a “law and order” prosecutor who put 45 men on death row and his efforts to expedite execution of convicted “police killers,” including Mumia. Tucker also alludes to Castille’s endorsement by the Fraternal Order of Police. Nonetheless, Tucker rejected Mumia’s claim that Castille had “significant personal involvement” in his appeal, not only inviting an appeal by the D.A.’s office but also gift- wrapping the core legal argument.

As Tucker notes, Mumia’s case “has become one of the most polarizing criminal cases in Philadelphia history, the nation, and perhaps worldwide.” Mumia has been in the crosshairs of the capitalist state since he was a teenage Black Panther Party spokesman in the 1960s. The Philly cops’ venom toward Mumia only grew in the 1970s when, as an award-winning journalist known as the “voice of the voiceless,” he exposed the racist Philly police vendetta against MOVE, the largely black back-to-nature group he came to support. His trial and conviction were a textbook frame-up involving close collaboration of cops, lying prosecutors and hanging judges; racist jury-rigging; terrorization of witnesses; concealment of evidence; phony ballistics and other manufactured “evidence”; and a “confession” concocted by cops and prosecutors.

At his 1982 trial, Mumia was sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. In December 2011, following a federal court decision rescinding the death penalty and ordering a new sentencing hearing, state authorities contented themselves with condemning him to the “living death” of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Tucker states that “justice would best be served” by allowing Mumia to re-argue his four prior applications under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The judge is concerned that “the slightest appearance of bias or lack of impartiality undermines the entire judiciary.” The whole capitalist state is irrevocably biased against the working class and the oppressed, and the racist attacks faced by Mumia in the courts are legion.

Presiding over Mumia’s trial was Judge Albert Sabo, a retired member of the Fraternal Order of Police that has led a frenzied campaign for Mumia’s execution. Sabo was known to Philadelphia attorneys as a “prosecutor in robes” and the “king of death row.” He ejected Mumia from critical portions of the trial, assisted the prosecution in excluding all but one black person from the jury and was overheard by a court reporter vowing to help the prosecution “fry the n----r.” Even before Castille ascended to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, that tribunal endorsed Sabo’s open bias, as have the federal courts, which turned down Mumia’s petitions for habeas corpus relief.

Mumia’s PCRA appeals, which are up for review, document the overwhelming evidence of his innocence. This includes not only physical evidence but the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner. Beverly explained that he “was hired, along with another guy, and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner.” He added: “I had heard that Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen.” At the time, virtually the entire chain of command for the “investigation” of Faulkner’s death was under suspicion in federal corruption probes.

As we go to press, current Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner has not yet announced whether he will appeal Tucker’s ruling. Krasner has been embraced by liberals and reformists like the International Socialist Organization, Socialist Alternative and Workers World Party as a “progressive” prosecutor. There can be no such thing. Following his election in 2017, Krasner tapped Castille for his transition team and, like his adviser, has been fighting to keep Mumia incarcerated. On December 28 and again a few days later, Mumia’s supporters rallied outside Krasner’s office, calling on him to “do the right thing.” From the Confederacy-loving former attorney general Jefferson Sessions to liberals like Krasner, prosecutors are an arm of the racist capitalist state for whom doing “the right thing” is repressing those deemed to pose a threat to capitalist law and order.

Whether or not Krasner appeals, Tucker’s ruling opens up what will likely be years of litigation, including a return to the federal courts. While we welcome Mumia’s opportunity to once again challenge his frame-up conviction, we have no illusion that the courts today will be any less biased against him than they have been in the past decades.

Mumia was recently deprived of access to phone and mail under the pretext of his having too much mail and newspapers in his cell. The vendetta against Mumia exemplifies the racist rulers’ determination to silence through state terror those fighting for black freedom. In this society built and maintained on black oppression, the first line of repression is directed at the besieged black population, with the ultimate aim of dividing the working class along racial and ethnic lines to prevent joint struggle against the capitalist oppressors.

The Partisan Defense Committee took up Mumia’s case in 1987 at a time when it was little known. The PDC and SL publicized his case, raised critically important funds for his legal defense and fought to mobilize the social power of the multiracial labor movement in his defense, including through labor-centered united-front protests demanding Mumia’s freedom and abolition of the racist death penalty. These efforts brought his case to trade unions representing millions around the world, from the U.S. to South Africa.

We urge our readers to donate to Mumia’s legal defense. Checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild should be sent to the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, Johanna Fernandez, 158-18 Riverside Drive W., Apt. 6C-50, New York, NY 10032, earmarked “For Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Legal Defense.”

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1147, 18 January 2019)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.