While Mumia Abu-Jamal, 64, is suffering from Hepatitis C and serving a life sentence for the murder of Philly police officer Daniel Faulkner, on the outside world, his supporters have renewed hope for his chances at appeal.
Late last month, a Philadelphia judge granted his lawyers the right to appeal, citing an impropriety in the adjudication of his previous appeals. And shortly thereafter, the Philadelphia DA's office acknowledged discovering six new boxes of evidence in its archives of material related to the case.
Abu-Jamal supporters rallied in West Philadelphia on Tuesday to repeat their demand that Philly DA Larry Krasner not oppose Abu-Jamal's appeal – supported by 4,000 petitions they delivered to the DA's office on Jan. 7 – and to question the contents of the boxes.
“There could be nothing of importance in the boxes or there could be evidence that could free Mumia,” Abu-Jamal supporter Pam Africa said in a statement. “Mumia was framed by withheld, suppressed and manufactured evidence, and supposedly lost ballistics tests. The DA’s Office is guilty of suppressing police corruption, prosecutorial misconduct and evidence of Mumia's innocence like witness recantations, exposure of false confessions, and photographic proof of crime scene tampering. The missing smoking gun evidence could be in those boxes. We want to know what’s in those files.”
However, it remains to be seen whether the content of the boxes will have any info on Abu-Jamal's case – or if it just contains duplicates of the material that is already in the case file.
The Philadelphia DA's office is not commenting on their plans in Abu-Jamal's case or the contents of the boxes – beyond a Jan. 3 letter it submitted to the court acknowledging the discovery.
"On December 28, 2018, the DA and members of his staff went to a remote and largely inaccessible room of the District Attorney's Office marked 'Storage' looking for office furniture. While they, they came across six file boxes, five of which were marked with the name 'McCann,'" referring to former first assistant district attorney Ed McCann, the DA's office wrote in its letter to the court. "The boxes were also marked with the name 'Mumia' or 'Abu-Jamal' and one of the boxes was marked with the full name 'Mumia Abu-Jamal.'"
Five boxes were numbered as follows, according to the DA's office: 18/29, 21/29, 23/29, 24/29, 29/29. The sixth was not numbered.
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In its previous discovery process, the DA's office submitted 32 numbered boxes, marked in sequential order, 1/32, 2/32, etc., through 3/32, the letter stated.
"This means the Commonwealth's prior representations that it had produced the complete file for this Court's review in this case were incorrect, although those representations were based upon a diligent search and were accurate to the best of the Commonwealth's knowledge at the time," the DA's office letter continued. "We are in the process of reviewing these boxes. We regret this development."
The appeal does not directly relate to Abu-Jamal's first degree murder conviction in 1982 after a jury trial that his supporters claim was biased– originally sentenced to death, his sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole in 2011, with consent from the Faulkner family.
But based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, Philly Judge Leon Tucker found that retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille tainted decisions on Abu-Jamal's appeals by ruling on them when he had previously opposed those same appeals while serving as Philadelphia District Attorney from 1986-91, before taking the bench in 1994.
Castille was not directly involved in Abu-Jamal's prosecution and death sentence — former Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell was D.A. when Abu-Jamal was tried and convicted.
But Abu-Jamal's last appeal of his conviction was rejected in 2012 by a Pa. Supreme Court bench that included Castille.
The decision could lead to a review of every legal step in his case since the mid-'90s, possibly before the current state Supreme Court.
Abu-Jamal's attorneys have yet to file their appeal, which is due 30 days after Tucker's decision.
“After almost four decades in prison suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, Hepatitis C and related ailments, years of court delays will be nothing less than a death sentence and a denial of justice for Mumia,” Africa added. “The evidence is there! Our job is to stop the conspiracy to torture and murder Mumia. After 37 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, we are demanding that the charges be dismissed and he should be freed."
Mumia Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, who briefly worked as a WHYY radio journalist and cab driver and was an affiliate of MOVE founder John Africa, was convicted of Faulkner’s murder in 1982. Prosecutors said Abu-Jamal ambushed and killed Faulkner near 13th and Locust after he drove up in his cab and discovered a Faulkner making a late-night traffic stop of Abu-Jamal's younger brother, which had turned violent. Abu-Jamal was arrested at the scene next to Faulkner's body with a gunshot wound from Faulkner's gun to the chest, and charged with first-degree murder.
In the '90s Abu-Jamal began to rise to fame after being dubbed a "political prisoner," who supporters claimed was targeted by a conspiracy of law enforcement officials due to his involvement in black power-related causes, but all multiple appeals of his conviction have been rejected by the courts.