The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office on Friday said that it appealed a recent ruling beneficial to convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal because it was concerned that the opinion — which would allow Abu-Jamal to reargue his appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — was too broad and could impact an “untold number” of other cases.
In a three-page document filed in Abu-Jamal’s case, prosecutors Nancy Winkelman and Peter Carr said that they believed some of the language in Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker’s December opinion was “problematic." Tucker ruled that Abu-Jamal should be allowed to reargue his appeal because former Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille — who was Philadelphia district attorney during the early portions of Abu-Jamal’s post-conviction efforts — did not recuse himself when the case reached the state Supreme Court.
Although Tucker rejected a claim by Abu-Jamal’s lawyers that Castille had “personal significant involvement" in Abu-Jamal’s case as a prosecutor — a topic the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on in a separate case in 2016 — Tucker said Castille’s involvement as a justice still created “the appearance of impropriety,” and that Abu-Jamal thus should be allowed to again take his appeal before the state’s highest court.
Prosecutors, in their filing Friday, said they were concerned that Tucker’s opinion could require any top prosecutor who becomes a judge to be recused from any case that had been pending before joining the bench, which they believed would have widespread consequences.
Judith Ritter, one of Abu-Jamal’s attorneys, said Friday that prosecutors were “mischaracterizing” Tucker’s decision, which she said was a proper interpretation of the law.
The case awaits a decision from the Superior Court, which could take months.
Abu-Jamal, 64, a former Black Panther and radio reporter, is serving a life sentence for the Dec. 9, 1981, shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, 25, at 13th and Locust Streets.
The case, one of the most controversial in city history, has sustained interest as the appeals process has continued.
Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, was ejected from a courtroom in October for arguing with Tucker over the extended appeal process. And earlier this month, District Attorney Larry Krasner — elected on a pledge to curb mass incarceration — was uninvited from speaking at a Rebellious Lawyering conference at Yale Law School due to his handling of Abu-Jamal’s appeal.