LEGAL UPDATE2002, June 26
1. We are still awaiting a response in the US (i.e., Federal) Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, to both sides' appeals of Federal Judge Yohn's December 2001 commutation of Mumia's death sentence to life in prison without parole. Mumia's status remains unchanged given these appeals. He remains on Death Row, locked up 23 hours a day as before, with plexiglass barriers between him and all visitors.
The Court of Appeals can overrule all the objections to Life in Prison Without Parole, and grant that, or it can respond in numerous other ways to the appeals by both sides, including the granting of a new sentencing.
2. Mumia's current attorneys filed for a reopening of the Post Conviction Relief Appeal Hearings conducted initially by now fired attorneys Len Weinglass and Dan Williams claiming that Mumia's former attorneys failed to represent him properly by never arguing for his innocence and by never presenting key exculpatory evidence (that is, evidence potentially pointing to Mumia's innocence).
They filed this petition both in Pennsylvania Supreme Court and in the Third Ciruit of the US Court of Appeals.
On June 11th, the Third Circuit ruled that it would stay all proceedings on the case pending the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's final decision.
This appears to be primarily a procedural ruling, without major significance, but points to a long process. They try to wear us down
3. Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania State Supreme Court a very interesting and very significant exchange is going on. Mumia's attorneys filed a motion to depose (take testimony from) Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille about whom there have been recurrent charges of conflict of interest because he had been a DA in the Common Court of Pleas (Pennsylvania State Court) during Mumia's appeal in that court, and now, when on the State Supreme Court he was being asked to review the very decision in which he had originally ruled negatively, i.e., had rejected Mumia's appeal.
In the original PCRA Mumia's then lawyers charged that there had been a Batson violation of Mumia's rights, that is, that by the Batson Court's rulings on standards for showing a pattern of racial discrimination in jury selection, Mumia's case showed a clear pattern of race-based exclusion of African Americans from his jury.
In 1998 they also attempted to include in the record a tape that had been prepared by a Jack MacMahon, which was used to train Assistant DA's in Philadelphia on how to exclude Black potential jurors from being selected without it being obvious that their removal was based on their race. This tape was disseminated in 1986 the very year the Batson Court attempted to prevent race discrimination as a basis for the exclusion of jurors and was meant of course, to circumvent the very protections offered by the Batson Court. The Supreme Court, on which Justice Castille sat, rejected that motion.
Mumia's current lawyers are saying that there was a clear conflict of interest in Castille ruling on the admissabiity of the MacMahon tape.
The Supreme Court had argued in rejecting Mumia's motion that the tape did not reflect on the DA's offocie as a whole but rather was the opinion or presentation of one individual alone. Mumia's current attorneys demonstrated that the tape had the insignia of Philadelphia on it and the name of Castille as the DA.
Thus they say, Castille's ruling on the Batson issue, the race issue, or the admissability of the MacMahon tape was quite incorrect since he in effect was a proponent of that tape and never rejected or disavowed its use. Furthermore, it had been quite dishonest and inappropriate for Castille not to have revealed this when the original motion to include the tape in the record was made and rejected.
We know the centrality of race in Mumia's case -- what with Mumia's history of Black Panther Party membership, his support of the MOVE organization, and his noted activities and writings on Black people and issues, not to mention Judge Albert Sabo's racism as documented in the courtroom and by Terri Maurer-Carter's affidavit stating that she had overhead him say, about Mumia, "And yeah, I'm going to help them fry that nigger". Thus Castille's practice in possible violation of Batson and showing his own racial prejudice should appropriately be questioned about his role in the creation and dissemination of the MacMahon tape, especially since his name is actually attached to the tape.
This issue and the court exchanges surrounding it are potentially highly explosive. Clearly Castille is implicated in the use of the tape and hence in violating Batson. Additionally, he is guilty of covering up his involvement in denying the introduction of the tape. And, finally, he is guilty of inappropriately refusing to recuse himself from decisions regarding Mumia or at least the introduction of the tape.
All this on the only issue which Yohn (Federal Court Judge) in rejecting the possibility of releasing Mumia or offering him a new trial, and in affirming Mumia's guilt, left open for appeal: jury selection. The issue of jury selection has been afforded a lot of attention this past year on many death penalty cases. Thus the commination of the race issue and the jury selection process are potentially very powerful challenges to Mumia's conviction. The Supreme Court, of course, refused the motion but Mumia's attorneys are filing a "motion for reargument". This issue cannot be dropped!