Posted on June 27, 2002

PA Supreme Court rejects motion
Mumia faces new
legal challenges

By Betsey Piette

Supporters of African American political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal held a news conference June 21 outside the office of gubernatorial candidate Ed Rendell. They gathered to protest a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling.

On June 14, the court rejected Abu-Jamal's legal motion to question former Philadelphia District Attorney Ronald D. Castille in court. Castille is currently a justice on the state Supreme Court.

Rendell's office was chosen because he has publicly stated that he will sign a death warrant for Abu-Jamal if elected governor. As an assistant DA, he was also involved in the 1981 frame-up of Abu-Jamal for killing Daniel Faulkner, a white Philadelphia cop.

The danger of a new death warrant increased June 17 when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling that overturned the death sentence of another Pennsylvania death row inmate and ordered the case re-examined. Last December's federal court decision overturning Abu-Jamal's death sentence could also be in jeopardy.

The news conference was organized by International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Exclusion of Black jurors

Abu-Jamal's motion called for questioning Judge Castille about an infamous training tape developed by Jack McMahon, a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. The tape coached assistant DAs on how to exclude African American people from juries and then conceal their efforts.

The 1987 video explained how to evade and violate a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Batson vs. Kentucky, that forbade using race as a reason to eliminate potential jurors in the selection process.

As Philadelphia DA from 1986 to 1991, Castille was McMahon's supervisor. The first things to appear on the videotape are Castille's name and the official seal of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.

Although the DA's office claimed the tape reflected only McMahon's views, supporters of Abu-Jamal are convinced Castille knew about the production, distribution and use of the tape. They say the notion that McMahon did it on his own, without the approval and knowledge of his boss, is preposterous.

Exclusion of potential African American jurors was one of 29 constitutional violations during Abu-Jamal's trial, sentencing and post-conviction proceedings, according to a brief filed in federal court in 1999. Although Castille was not district attorney at the time of Abu-Jamal's 1982 conviction, the illegal policy of excluding jurors based on race clearly continued during his term.

Bias against Black jurors was also part of Abu-Jamal's state appeal for post-conviction relief. When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, including Castille, ruled against that appeal in 1998, the former prosecutor never disclosed his conflict of interest or the McMahon tape that bears his name.

Castille also refused calls to recuse himself because of his connection with the Philadelphia DA's office and his honorary membership in the Fraternal Order of Police.

This marks the third time Castille was allowed to rule on matters concerning his own actions-in violation of state law.

Abu-Jamal's attorneys have formally requested a reconsideration of the court's decision.

"[Castille's] presence on the court denies both justice and the appearance of justice," said Pam Africa, spokesperson for ICFFMAJ.

She noted, "The more people learn of what's going on and speak up about it, the harder it will be for this court to continue the injustice."

New danger for Abu-Jamal

The danger of a new death warrant was underscored by the June 17 U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw out a ruling made by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last November. That lower court decision had overturned the death sentence of Pennsylvania death row inmate George Banks.

The lower court overturned Banks' sentence based on improper instructions to the jurors in the sentencing phase of the trial that violated Supreme Court standards for jury instructions set in 1988.

In an unsigned decision, the U.S. Supreme Court questioned whether those rulings could be applied retroactively, and instructed the lower court to re-examine what jurors were told before they sentenced Banks for multiple murders in 1982.

The earlier appeals court ruling in the Banks case had prompted courts to throw out the death sentences of several of Pennsylvania's 245 death row inmates, including Abu-Jamal.

Last December, federal Judge William H. Yohn ordered prosecutors to either hold a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal or reduce his sentence to life imprisonment. At the same time, Yohn refused to hear Abu-Jamal's habeas petition to overturn his conviction.

In mid-June a federal court refused to hear Abu-Jamal's appeal of Yohn's decision, opting to wait until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court again takes up the case. State prosecutors have also appealed in an effort to restore the original death sentence.

Pointing to the numerous violations of Abu-Jamal's civil rights, conflicting testimony of witnesses, racism in jury selection, and the taped confession of Arnold Beverly that he killed Faulkner, supporters are calling for his release.

A protest calling for Abu-Jamal's freedom is planned for July 4 in Philadelphia.

For information on the July 4th protest,
telephone the International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal
at (215) 476-5416.

For NYC bus information
call the IAC at 212-633-6646.

 

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