Joan edukira



P1140818For the first time in 37 years a Philadelphia court has granted Mumia Abu-Jamal relief.  Judge Leon Tucker of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas has thrown out the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s repeated denials of Mumia’s appeals: five appeals over 27 years.

The decision attempts to limit relief to arguments before the PA Supreme Court and on the previously filed papers; but likely these re-arguments will require new briefing and hearings.  Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has 30 days to appeal of Tucker’s order.

There is no way that the Pandora’s box of police corruption, prosecutorial misconduct, and judicial bias can be closed. Mumia will now be able to argue his innocence and expose the tainted evidence which framed him for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981. 

“True justice requires, patience, integrity, independence, impartiality, and propriety,” notes Judge Leon Tucker in his memorandum opinion.

He also quotes the U.S. Supreme Court  “Courts employ an objective standard that requires recusal when the likelihood of bias on the part of the judge is too high to be constitutionally tolerable”  Massey Coal (2009).

The bedrock principle in Judge Tucker’s decision is that every person must receive a fair trial.  This principle has been ignored by the Pennsylvania courts for decades.  It took the U.S. Supreme Court decision eviscerating former PA Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille for bias (Williams v. Commonwealth of PA) for the Pennsylvania courts to take notice.

Tucker ruled that the guarantee of a fair hearing (a fundamental constitutional right) would not be possible before Justice Ronald Castille, a former Philadelphia District Attorney.

Mumia will now be able to finally challenge the illegal police and prosecutorial tactics used during his trial and he will be able to expose the rulings of the notorious racist trial judge Albert F. Sabo.

Saying that racism and bias poisoned Mumia’s arrest and conviction, while true, just does not capture the evocative or descriptive realities.

Let’s take a quick look at judicial bias in Philadelphia.

Just a few weeks into Mumia’s original trial in 1982, the trial judge, Albert Sabo, said “Yeah, I am going to help them fry the nigger” in front of court clerk Terri Maurer-Carter and PCRA Judge Richard Klein.  This evidence came to light in 2001.

While sitting on the PA Supreme Court Ronald Castille ruled that that the bias of Judge Sabo had already been litigated by the lower courts.  They affirmed in 1998 the decision of Judge Pamela Dembe.   According to Dembe it “was a jury trial, [and] as long as the presiding Judge’s [Sabo’s] rulings were legally correct, claims as to what might have motivated or animated those rulings are not relevant.”

Let’s be clear. Everyone knew and knows about Sabo’s legendary racism.  They knew in 1981. They knew in 1995.  And they know now.   One PCRA Philadelphia Judge has recently said: “Albert Sabo was the most racist jurist I have ever met, outrageously biased.”

In 1995 the PA Supreme Court and Ronald Castille also approved Albert F. Sabo’s temporary appointments to come out of retirement to hear cases.

The practice of allowing judges to come out of retirement to hear the appeals on the cases they previously presided is done under the guise of efficiency, but in reality it  enhances racism and procedural error.  The practice continues to this day, one Philadelphia PCRA judge told me recently “I sat through the original trial, so I know who is guilty and who is innocent”.

Predictably, in 1995 Sabo refused to step down in the interest of fairness; and denied every single defense motion at the 1995 evidentiary hearing and adopted the District Attorney’s arguments wholesale.

Racism and bias infected every single aspect of Mumia’s original trial.  I was in the courtroom and saw Albert Sabo in action in 1995.   It was transparent from the record, and palpable in his conduct on the bench.  Even the Philadelphia Daily News had a banner headline “Sabo must Go”. The editorial board was afraid that Sabo’s bias would haunt the case. They were right.

It was Ronald Castille and the PA Supreme Court who denied Mumia’s argument in both instances from the record and through the testimony of a court clerk that Albert Sabo’s bias poisoned the trial.

Freedom, the possibility of Mumia walking out of prison, is now tangible.

As I sit next to Mumia in the visiting room at SCI Mahanoy I know that everything is changing.  I also know that as we get nearer to freedom, the road becomes a whole lot rougher.


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