Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Former Lawyer on the DA’s Challenge to his Appeal

Rachel Wolkenstein, Mumia’s former lawyer, talks about DA Larry Krasner, known as a progressive D.A., challenging Mumia’s right to appeal, which she deems as a further attempt for a cover-up and more evidence that Mumia’s case needs to be dismissed

Mumia Abu-Jamal's Former Lawyer on the DA's Challenge to his Appeal

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Story Transcript

EDDIE CONWAY: I’m Eddie Conway, host of Rattling the Bars. Welcome to this episode. We are talking to Rachel Wolkenstein, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s former lawyer, about a new development in his case. DA Larry Krasner is challenging his right to appeal. Thank you, Rachel, for joining me.

RACHEL WOLKENSTEIN: Thank you for having me, Eddie.

EDDIE CONWAY: What do you think about the fact that DA Larry Krasner’s office found six boxes of evidence a couple of weeks ago on Mumia’s case, and now he’s challenging Mumia’s right to appeal?

RACHEL WOLKENSTEIN: Well, I think the entire situation is outrageous, meaning that these boxes were hidden. Krasner describes it as they found these boxes in a room that was largely inaccessible, in a remote area in the DA’s office.

QUOTE FROM DA KRASNER’S OFFICE: Commonwealth v. Mumia Abu-Jamal

Dear Judge Tucker,

I write to inform the Court of a development in this case. On December 28, 2018, the DA and members of his staff went to a remote and largely inaccessible room of the District Attorney’s Office marked ‘Storage,’ looking for office furniture … While there, they came across six file boxes … The boxes were also marked with the name ‘Mumia,’ or ‘Abu-Jamal,’ and one of the boxes was marked with the full name ‘Mumia Abu-Jamal.’

Tracey Kavanagh, Assistant District Attorney

RACHEL WOLKENSTEIN: Those boxes that are hidden have to be evidence in there that would explode the frame up of Mumia; evidence of prosecutorial and police misconduct, coercion of witnesses, and all sorts of things that were done that led to Mumia’s conviction for a crime he did not commit. So what the–what the DA did is after two weeks of holding these boxes, he allowed Mumia’s attorneys of record access. Now, that means that we have no reason to have any faith that there was no further tampering with these boxes. The point we’ve made, the point in all our public statements in Philadelphia, that this is evidence of the coverup or the frame up, and means absolutely that the level of corruption is so great and now so confirmed by this secreting of these boxes for all these years that we need to demand and are demanding that the charges be dismissed against Mumia.

EDDIE CONWAY: Is this challenge to stop the appeal? Or do you think it’s a stall tactic to allow them more time to figure out how to proceed?

RACHEL WOLKENSTEIN: I think it’s to stop the appeal. Krasner has taken the same position from beginning to end on this case, which was to oppose Mumia’s attempt to get new appeal rights. And he opposed it all through the entirety of that time that he’s been on the case, since January of 2018. And so this is really just a continuation of his policy, and it’s sort of remarkable that he’s done that. Not remarkable, because he’s made it clear that’s where he stands; you know, hand in glove with the Fraternal Order of Police, and the former Justice Ronald Castille, whose bias in Mumia’s appeals, and the way that he supported and fought for Mumia’s conviction to be upheld, that he’s just going along the same trail there.

EDDIE CONWAY: It’s been my understanding–and I’m not there on the ground–that he has challenged the police in a lot of different ways in relationship to Black Lives Matter. Even in the relationship to death penalty cases, he had opposed people that even had, like, murder cases against police to not get the death penalty. Why is he acting this way toward Mumia? In Mumia’s case?

RACHEL WOLKENSTEIN: I think you hit on a very important question, that for Krasner to make his basic reforms, actually fairly modest reforms–I’m not doubting that he hasn’t done certain things in terms of changing cash bail, of how he’s handled a number of cases involving, you know, police shootings of innocent people, et cetera. But Mumia’s case is really the most notable case that challenges in every possible way the workings of the American judicial system, because he was arrested and framed for a murder he did not commit. That the police and the Fraternal Order of Police know he did not commit. And he was also targeted for being a politically opponent of the policies of this government. And he was outspoken from the time he was 15 years old, put on the FBI’s target list for extermination. And we can go on and on over his advocacy, including his defense of the MOVE organization.

So Mumia’s case is a lightning rod, and it has it their–the commitment of the Fraternal Order of Police to see Mumia first executed, and now to die in prison, is actually part and parcel of the significance of Mumia’s case, and what it would mean for Muia’s freedom. Because his freedom on the grounds that they’re not only was fundamental violations of due process and his conviction, you know, exclusion of African Americans from the jury, being tried by a judge who said to another judge “I’m going to help them fry the n-word,” exposes from top to bottom the corruption and racial and class bias in the judicial system. And somebody who has been a fighter from the time he was a teenager.

So I think that mumia’s case, in a way unlike other cases, even cases like yourself and other former Panther members, and the MOVE organization, and so many other people who are targeted for their political views and their actions by this government, nonetheless, Mumia’s case goes to the heart of everything, and he’s been a spokesman for all that.

EDDIE CONWAY: Let me ask you this, because Krasner is challenging the appeal. On what grounds can he challenge it? The judge already ruled it was a conflict of interest. What was Krasner’s position about why he challenged that?

RACHEL WOLKENSTEIN: Well, he originally challenged everything because he said that there was no evidence that Ronald Castille was personally involved in Mumia’s case. So he made this sort of argument which flies in the face of all reality of what was going on in Philadelphia, and Castille’s role as District Attorney to uphold Mumia’s conviction. He also carried out the same sort of technical slicing and dicing of words to say that the fact that Castille had said that he was fighting for, sort of, immediate executions of people who had been convicted and sentenced to death, in opposition to a governor at that time was opposed to capital executions, was not applicable to Mumia, because Mumia’s name was not in the same piece of paper that Castille was shown to indicate this to the governor.

But the point, the more fundamental point, is right now what Judge Tucker granted was a new appeal, and just the most fundamental due process, fundamental presumption of what a judiciary is supposed to be, a tribunal is supposed to be, which is supposed to be impartial, not biased, no conflict of interest, and no appearance of impropriety. And the reason why Krasner has said, and he put out a press release about this yesterday, the reason why he said that they had to appeal, they said they agreed with some things, but it was too broad. It was too broad a decision, both for other defendants, as well as for Mumia. Which means that he is denying the the fundamental legal principle that you need a judiciary that does not have the appearance of bias. And in Mumia’s case, what Tucker said is that what Castille had done is he had run on a law and order platform as a judge, bragged about putting 45 people on death row, and bragged about the fact that the Fraternal Order of Police gave him political support and financial support.

So those are the fundamentals, and we have to realize that particularly in states where judges are elected, and certainly prosecutors are elected, that the entire. Point about bias, when are saying that if you are going to have a neutral judicial system, that’s the formality. That’s the legal due process principle, which is actually not how it works. But that is the principle that’s supposed to be due process and apply. That would mean that–that would affect, that would affect across the board so many judges in this country who are elected with the support of the Fraternal Order of Police, around a law and order program.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK. So, where do we stand now with this challenge to the appeal? What’s the next step? What court do we go in front of, and what can we anticipate happening?

RACHEL WOLKENSTEIN: Well, there’s two things happening, or three things happening, in terms of Krasner has appealed, saying that you can’t give people this much justice. I mean, just to say it a different way. And meanwhile, Mumia’s attorneys have filed their notice of appeal to begin the appeal process of all of Mumia’s prior denials in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of all the challenges to his conviction that occurred from 2000–I’m sorry, 1998–to 2012. So, these are both going up to the Superior Court and the Appellate Court–not the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, but an intermediate court, for a decision. And what is quite possible is that the Superior Court will say, hey, we’re not going to hear Mumia’s appeals, which is what Tucker granted. We’re not going to hear that until we decide whether or not, in fact, it was wrong for Tucker to make this ruling, that it was incorrect, because Krasner is fighting it.

And so what we’re looking at, quite frankly, unless there is the intervention by, really, mass protest and mobilization across the world, which saved Mumia’s life before, twice, when he had execution warrants against him. But what this is doing is Krasner is basically saying, well, not only is Mumia not going to have simply the right to appeal–we’re not talking about a new trial. We’re not talking about dismissal at this point. We’re talking about simply getting his case heard by a supposedly unbiased judiciary. But that could take 10 years. When the federal court–and reason I say that is when the federal court overturned Mumia’s death sentence back in 2001, Mumia stayed in death row and solitary confinement, in a cell that he described as living in a toilet, for 10 years while the prosecutor took all the challenges up to the U.S. Supreme Court twice.

And so Krasner has gone on this route. He opposed this simple right of Mumia–or should have been accepted right away that Castille was biased, based on everything that we know about the case, and everything that he had done. He fought that all the way through this whole past year. Now he’s filing notices of appeal. He is going to appeal it. And what he is setting in motion is an appeal process that means it is highly unlikely, I have to say, that Mumia would live to see, even, the ability to be able to have his appeals heard again, let alone to get the dismissal of the charges that are warranted here. And that’s what Krasner is doing. That’s what he’s doing, pure and simple.

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah. Well, I see that the head of the NAACP came out yesterday, and is asking Krasner to withdraw that challenge. Is there other public support being organized to do that? Because it obviously is going to require more than one voice. Are there other voices out there?

RACHEL WOLKENSTEIN: Right. Well, in the in the past months, before Krassner filed his notice of appeal, there was an international outcry. There were letters that came from all over the world, from trade unions all over the world. Individuals–there were petitions that were signed. All this to tell Krasner, this past month, do not appeal. And of course, he ignored that. And that will continue and be increased. But meanwhile, what the boxes represent in terms of what is potentially explosive evidence of the frame up of Mumia, confirmation of what we’ve said, is that really the demand has to be right now, again, that all of this is evidence that means that what should happen is the DA’s office should dismiss these charges. And that’s what we need to fight for, is Mumia’s freedom. And that’s only going to happen through, really, mass international protest of every sort, from, you know, petitions, and letters, and phone calls, and also mobilization in the streets. And, you know, look, there should be no–labor should stop. Part of the demands that should be made in this country is to free all political prisoners, as well as changing economic situation, racism. You know, the right to have jobs, the right for medical care, all of that. And the fight for Mumia’s freedom should be part of that, as well.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK. Thank you. If something new develops on this, we will get back in touch with you so you can update us.

RACHEL WOLKENSTEIN: Absolutely. Thank you very much.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK. And thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars.