A Philadelphia judge has issued a stunningly powerful order requiring the city’s District Attorney’s Office to locate and release all documents related to the involvement of a former top prosecutor in the most contentious murder case in Philadelphia’s history. Because that former DA, Ronald Castille later became- a state supreme court justice and ultimately chief justice, the order could shine a light onto the dark legacy of ethics shredding misconduct by members of the state’s highest court.
It also opens the door a crack to the possibility that Mumia Abu-Jamal, currently serving a life sentence without possibility of parole, could have his 1982 murder conviction for the killing of a white Philadelphia police officer overturned.
The order, issued recently by Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker, comes in an appeal filed by attorneys for celebrated jailhouse journalist Abu-Jamal. It represents yet another setback for the Philadelphia’s District Attorneys Office, an office already reeling from federal corruption charges filed recently against the city’s current DA Seth Williams.
Philadelphia prosecutors have spent decades fighting to sustain Abu-Jamal’s murder conviction for the 1981 shooting death Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner. Since Abu-Jamal’s conviction by a mostly white jury in 1982, entities as diverse as Amnesty International, government officials in the U.S and abroad plus prominent individuals around the world have condemned his trial, conviction and appeals process as a miscarriage of justice fraught with misconduct by prosecutors and judges, including members of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.
The current Abu-Jamal appeal centers on the legal unfairness of actions taken by former Philadelphia DA Castille, who as top prosecutor, oversaw the legal effort to keep Abu-Jamal on Pennsylvania’s death row, and then later served as a state Supreme Court justice ruling on appeals of those very actions by his former office.
Years after his election to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1993, Castille joined six other court justices in rejecting an appeal by Abu-Jamal for a new trial based on documented evidence of egregious misconduct by police, prosecutors and the judge who presided over Abu-Jamal’s original 1982 trial and over his initial Post Conviction Relief Act hearing in 1995.
Retired PA Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, Philadelphia Common Please Judge Leon Tucker and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Abu-Jamal’s legal team recently argued that Castille’s vote in the court’s 1998 rejection of their client’s appeal violated ethics provisions covering all judges in Pennsylvania –- a basic legal rights issue brushed aside by Pennsylvania’s high court in its unanimous 1998 ruling.
This latest Abu-Jamal appeal centers on a 2016 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Williams v. Pennsylvania granting convicted murderer Terrance Williams a new trial because of Justice Castille’s refusal to recuse himself from a decision on Williams’ appeal of his conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court in that case blasted Castille because he had, as DA, approved the decision to seek the death penalty against Williams. His later vote as the state’s top judge denying an appeal of that conviction included his dismissal of chilling documentation that Philadelphia prosecutors working for him had unlawfully withheld critical exculpatory evidence during Williams’ trial — a circumstance similar to documented evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in the Abu-Jamal case.