Mumia Abu-Jamal can reargue appeal in 1981 police slaying

The Associated Press
Former Black Panther and convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, seen in this undated file photo. A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge ruled Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018, that he can re-argue an appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (April Saul/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA – A judge issued a split ruling Thursday that grants Mumia Abu-Jamal another chance to appeal his 1981 conviction in a Philadelphia police officer’s death.

Abu-Jamal spent nearly three decades on death row before his sentence in the shooting death of Officer Daniel Faulkner was thrown out over flawed jury instructions. Prosecutors then agreed in 2011 to a sentence of life without parole.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected his final appeal in 2012. But after the defense this year pushed to get more documents in the case, Philadelphia Judge Leon Tucker ruled Thursday that former Justice Ronald Castille should have recused himself because of statements he made as a prosecutor about police killers that suggest a potential bias. They include campaign speeches and letters advocating the issuance of death warrants in such cases.

The ruling, first reported by KYW-AM, gives Mumia the chance to reargue his appeal because of that perception of bias. However, Tucker rejected defense arguments that Castille had played a “significant” role in Abu-Jamal’s appeal when he was Philadelphia district attorney and then ruled on the case as a judge.

District Attorney Larry Krasner, through a spokesman, said he was reviewing the decision and had not yet decided whether to challenge it. Defense lawyer Judith Ritter said Tucker recognized the “need for a new appeal untainted by such bias.”

The case against Abu-Jamal, a former radio journalist, has received international attention among death-penalty opponents and criminal justice reform advocates.

Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, had a rare outburst in court earlier this year, noting the legal proceedings had gone on for 38 years and asking, “When is this case going to end for us?”