In 1981, Philadelphia Police Officer Danny Faulkner was murdered by Mumia Abu-Jamal. A racially diverse jury convicted Jamal of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death. Since then, he has pursued endless appeals in state and federal courts. Although his death sentence was overturned on a technicality, his conviction has been repeatedly affirmed.
Throughout this lengthy process, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has been zealously represented by three previous district attorneys. Now the defense of Abu-Jamal’s conviction is in the hands of District Attorney Larry Krasner, the self-styled “public defender with power," who during his short time in office has established an appalling record of undercharging violent criminals and astonishing indifference to the interests of crime victims.
Now, after 37 years of appeals, Abu-Jamal has filed a motion for a new trial based on newly-discovered evidence of alleged misconduct by the trial prosecutor. But Krasner’s office has never consulted the accused trial prosecutor concerning the allegations of misconduct. And, instead of contesting those accusations, Krasner’s office text messaged Maureen Faulkner, the murdered police officer’s long-suffering widow, that it was consenting to allow a hearing to proceed on these allegations. The failure to even consult the trial prosecutor and the unwarranted consent to a hearing on those allegations raise serious questions regarding Krasner’s intentions and his willingness to zealously oppose this latest move by Abu-Jamal to gain his freedom.
Accordingly, this week attorneys representing Maureen Faulkner petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to disqualify Krasner’s office from any further involvement in the Abu-Jamal case based on conflicts of interest. The petition is supported by damning exhibits that demonstrate why Krasner should be removed from the case. Among these exhibits is a detailed affidavit by the accused prosecutor refuting each and every claim of misconduct and stating under oath that he has never been contacted by Krasner’s office about these claims.
The petition also points out that the head of Krasner’s appellate unit, which is responsible for defending Abu-Jamal’s conviction, previously represented Abu-Jamal in the appeal of his conviction. In that regard, the petition avers that, when the head of Krasner’s appellate unit previously represented Abu-Jamal, he filed pleadings in the Supreme Court alleging that Abu-Jamal is innocent and that his conviction was the result of “fabricated evidence, subornation of perjury and a false confession.” In addition, the petition sets forth that Krasner himself has publicly described the former prosecutors who fought to uphold Abu-Jamal’s conviction as “war criminals.”
I attended the news conference at which Maureen Faulkner and her lawyer announced the filing of the petition. Sitting quietly in the audience was Linda Schellenger, whose son was stabbed to death in Rittenhouse Square. I later had an opportunity to talk with her. She is dignified, well-spoken, intelligent, highly credible, and sincere. Schellenger has been outspoken about the circumstances of her son’s death and the way the case was handled and how she was treated by the District Attorney’s Office, including her nationally televised accusation that Krasner suppressed evidence found on social media of the assailant declaring before the attack on her son that he “was going to kill someone” and afterward rapping about “blood in the streets."
As documented in this newspaper and elsewhere, Krasner and his office have consistently demonstrated an indifference bordering on disdain for the rights and concerns of crime victims and their families.
But now, thanks to the courage of Maureen Faulkner and Linda Schellenger, it is becoming apparent that Krasner has an agenda calculated to deprive crime victims, their loved ones, and the public at large of the full protection of the law to which they are entitled.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court should consider Faulkner’s petition in the overall context of the disaster that has befallen the people of Philadelphia with the election of Krasner. While she seeks Krasner’s removal from her husband’s murder case, her petition serves the broader societal interest of seeking the court’s help in placing limits on what Krasner seems to believe is his unbridled discretion to abrogate his obligation to zealously and fully enforce the law.
Hopefully the court will remove Krasner from the Abu-Jamal case so that Pennsylvania’s attorney general may take over and vigorously oppose the murderer’s latest bid to get out of prison. Maybe then, chastened by the Supreme Court and with the example of the attorney general zealously defending Abu-Jamal’s conviction, Krasner will begin to realize that as a prosecutor he has a sacred duty to protect the public whom he purports to serve.
Author’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, I am close friends with Joseph McGill, my former colleague in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office who successfully prosecuted Abu-Jamal for the Faulkner murder. I know and admire and have provided legal services to Faulkner’s courageous widow, Maureen. Finally, many years ago, I agreed to represent an African American who had been in the emergency room where Abu-Jamal was brought for treatment within minutes of his shooting Faulkner. This bystander heard Abu-Jamal angrily proclaim that he had killed Faulkner.