A Philadelphia judge issued a ruling that could pave the way for a new trial for former journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1982.
In 2012, Abu-Jamal’s final appeal was denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However, his lawyers filed a brief in 2016 arguing that one of the judges — Justice Ronald Castille — should have recused himself during the appeals process because of statements he made as a District Attorney about people who kill police.
On Thursday, Judge Leon Tucker issued a split decision, concluding that while Castile should have excused himself from the proceedings, the Justice did not have a “personal significant involvement” in Abu-Jamal’s case when he worked in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
“The public expectation of impartial justice is necessary. The slightest appearance of bias or lack of impartiality undermines the entire judiciary, hence the mandate of not only propriety, but the appearance of propriety,” Tucker wrote in his 26-page ruling.
He added: “Re-argument before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would be best to perform the heart of the function of the appearance of justice. Argument only on the past submitted briefs will avoid the unacceptable danger of having the slightest appearance of impropriety.”
Tucker’s ruling opens the door for Abu-Jamal’s legal team to re-present his appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which could lead to a new trial.
Abu-Jamal was convicted in the 1981 killing of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. A former Black Panther and radio host, Abu-Jamal spent decades on death row before his sentence was changed to life in prison because of flawed jury instructions during his initial trial.
During his incarceration, Abu-Jamal, an avid writer, has become a cause célèbre for many who believe he did not receive a fair trial. This latest ruling will no-doubt strengthen their support, while Faulkner’s family will continue to fight to protect the memory of the slain officer.