Philadelphia, PA – A Philadelphia judge has ruled that convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal will have another opportunity appeal his case before the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
Abu-Jamal, 64, a member of the Black Panthers, was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in two separate trials and sentenced to death.
His attorneys were able to have the death sentence changed to a life sentence in 2011 through a series of appeals.
On Aug. 7, 2016, they appealed again, on the basis that one of the state supreme court justices who heard his appeal had been district attorney during the time that office was working on Abu-Jamal’s case.
The defense said he should have recused himself, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker rendered the decision on Thursday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Tucker concluded that then-Chief Justice Ronald Castille should have recused himself from Abu-Jamal’s previous appeal due to the fact that Castille was the city’s district attorney at the time of Abu-Jamal’s conviction.
“The public expectation of impartial justice is necessary,” Tucker wrote in his 36-page opinion. “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.”
“Re-argument before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would be best to perform the heart of the function of the appearance of justice,” he wrote. “Argument only on the past submitted briefs will avoid the unacceptable danger of having the slightest appearance of impropriety."
However, the judge did not agree with Abu-Jamal’s claim that Castille had “personal significant involvement” with his case while Castille was serving as the district attorney.
Tucker also noted that, while Abu-Jamal’s appeals were active, prosecutors were required to retain two documents that cannot be located.
Although the missing documents could be “prejudicial” to Abu-Jamal, the district attorney’s office’s conduct was not “egregious,” the judge added.
Officer Faulkner’s brutal murder occurred on Dec. 9, 1981, after he stopped a vehicle, driven by Abu-Jamal’s brother, for driving the wrong way down a one-way street, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
As Officer Faulkner was attempting to take the driver into custody, Abu-Jamal came running from a parking lot across the street and opened fire on the 25-year-old police officer from behind.
Although he had been shot in the back four times, Officer Faulkner was able to return fire, striking the suspect.
Abu-Jamal, though hit, was able to continue shooting, and stood over the wounded officer and shot him in the face, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Officer Faulkner’s killer tried to flee, but collapsed several feet away from the fallen officer, gun in hand.
Maureen Faulkner, Officer Faulkner’s widow, was in the Philadelphia courtroom in October when Tucker gave her husband’s killer 30 more days to work on his appeal, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
"With all due respect, your honor, I have another 30 days that I have to go through this pain and suffering?" Maureen Faulkner asked when Tucker announced his decision.
The widow had traveled from California to be present in the courtroom for the hearing that took place on her birthday.
Abu-Jamal was not present, and remained in the State Correctional Institution-Mahanoy in Schuylkill County.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that sheriff’s deputies tried to calm Maureen Faulkner down as she began yelling at the judge.
"I've been fighting back and forth!" she told him, furious.
"Have a seat," Tucker said.
"I have been fighting!" Maureen Faulkner insisted.
"Please remove her from the courtroom," Tucker ordered the court officers.
"Thirty-eight years!" Faulkner yelled as she was escorted out. "This is wrong!"
"The courtroom is sensitive to both sides,” the judge told the courtroom after the victim’s wife was removed. "The court is not going to rush to judgment in this matter."
"So, just to be clear, no matter how long it takes, this court is going to do the right thing,” Tucker said.
"It's difficult," the judge added. "I'll be candid. It's a difficult case."
Maureen Faulkner apologized outside the courtroom for her behavior toward the judge.
"My emotions got the best of me," the widow said. "I mean, when is this case going to end for us?"
Her lifelong friend Joan Fisher said the explosion was a result of Maureen Faulkner suffering years of frustration.
“I think there’s been so many years of this pent up and what appeared to be unfair and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back — she is entitled to let them know, that she’s been dealing with this her entire adult life,” Fisher told KYW.
Officer Faulkner’s widow has been flying back and forth between California and Philadelphia on a monthly basis to attend hearings for years.
Abu-Jamal has 30 days to appeal his case to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, KYW reported.