Attorney Judith Ritter speaks outside of the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center after Mumia Abu-Jamal’s hearing.

— Tribune Photo by Phillip Jackson

A state court judge on Wednesday continued the action filed by Mumia Abu-Jamal claiming alleged judicial bias. Abu-Jamal is currently serving a life sentence for the 1982 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Supporters for Abu-Jamal gathered outside the doors of the city’s Criminal Justice Center on Wednesday, hoping new Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner will review the case.

“What happened in court was short. But actually a good development in the sense that there is a new district attorney here,” said Judith Ritter, an attorney for Abu-Jamal. “We were hoping and we are glad that new office administration and the other people are going to look at this question that we have been talking about with Justice [Ronald] Castile having been sitting on the Supreme Court when deciding some of Mumia’s appeals and we are glad that they are going to be taking a look at their position.”

Abu-Jamal was charged and held for first-degree murder of Faulkner in police headquarters. Four witnesses said Abu-Jamal had shot Faulkner after a late-night traffic stop turned into a physical altercation between Abu-Jamal’s brother and the officer.

Several witnesses had testified against Abu-Jamal, while his defense team still claimed his innocence. Abu-Jamal ended up receiving the death sentence in a unanimous decision from the jury.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied the appeal of his conviction in 1989, his writ for judicial review in 1990 and his two petitions for a rehearing in 1991.

The Philadelphia District Attorney Office sent a statement through Krasner’s spokesperson.

“Our office asked for additional time for the new administration to review the case. Defense counsel agreed to the request and the judge scheduled a status conference in 30 days and a hearing in 60 days,” read the statement from Ben Waxman.

“We don’t have any additional comment except to say that the D.A. will be reviewing the case and will make a determination on the best course of action based on the facts,” it said.

Abu-Jamal’s attorneys and supporters are hoping the city’s new district attorney will help with his release.

Rachel Wolkenstien, an attorney and advocate for Abu-Jamal, argued that Castile, a former district attorney who later became a judge on the state’s Supreme Court, had showed bias toward Abu-Jamal because of his early affiliation with the Black Panther party at the age of 15.

“Those issues among others were on appeal. And Castile was responsible for arguing against them every step of the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Wolkenstien said outside of the justice center. “Now, four years later, Castile stood on the U.S. Pennsylvania Supreme Court. And he ran there as he ran for DA as a law and order, pro-death penalty, supported by the FOP and proud of it DA. He supported prosecutorial misconduct. He defended the DA responsible for that.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found bias in Castile from another case last year. The court ruled that Castile had violated the rights of defendant Terry Williams.

Castile was district attorney when he signed off on Williams’ death sentence and approximately 30 years later, he was on the court that voted unanimously for his death sentence to be re-instated after a judge tossed it out.

“We are out here fighting to get Mumia free. But it’s not just Mumia we want free, we want all political prisoners free,” said Alex Africa, 19, and a descendant of members of the MOVE 9 who are currently incarcerated.

“The reason that Mumia got put into jail is because he is a freedom fighter and he speaks the truth and the government was afraid of that,” his sister Brianna Africa, 15, added. “He was fighting for the freedom of my family and he was telling the truth.”

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