Philadelphia prosecutor fights new Mumia Abu-Jamal appeal

Philadelphia's top prosecutor will fight a court decision that gives Mumia Abu-Jamal a new chance to appeal his conviction in a 1981 police slaying.

District Attorney Larry Krasner, a longtime civil rights lawyer, filed notice Friday that he'll challenge the order that revives the former Black Panther's high-profile case.

Abu-Jamal, 64, spent decades as a death-row activist and writer, attracting an international following among death penalty opponents, before his sentence was thrown out over flawed jury instructions. He has been serving life without parole since 2011, and interest in his case has largely quieted.

However, in December, Philadelphia Judge Leon Tucker granted him a new appeals hearing because of a Supreme Court ruling that said a former Pennsylvania justice who heard the appeal had a potential conflict of interest. The jurist, Ronald Castille, had been the district attorney during Abu-Jamal's initial appeal.

Legal scholars in the city have been following closely to see how Krasner would respond, given his focus on criminal justice reform. A longtime critic of the death penalty, he has tangled with the city's police union since taking office last year, especially over pleas that spared two men the death penalty in a 2015 police slaying.

Meanwhile, Krasner's office said it had found six boxes of files from Abu-Jamal's case in a storage area. They spent several weeks going through the files before reporting that it contained no apparent smoking guns. Instead, they said, the files contained police paperwork, tapes, jury selection notes and discovery material.

Judith Ritter, a lead lawyer on Abu-Jamal's appeal, faulted Krasner for his decision and said her client should get to reargue his appeal before an unbiased court.

"We are very disappointed that D.A. Krasner has decided to challenge the conclusion of an objective judge that Mr. Abu-Jamal was denied this right," said Ritter, who teaches at Widener University's Delaware Law School. "Krasner's appeal only risks delaying our opportunity to make our case to an appellate court untainted by bias."

Krasner put out the following statement on Sunday:

"We respect the trial Court and its independence as a distinct branch of government. The Philadelphia DAO's notice of appeal reflects its agreement with some and disagreement with other aspects of the Court's opinion. That opinion has sweeping and, in our view, problematic implications for a large volume of cases, in addition its effect on the case of Mumia Abu Jamal. Our positions will be explained in full in our legal brief.

Meanwhile, our recent discovery of additional boxes relating to the Mumia Abu Jamal matter that were either lost or concealed by prior administrations has been disclosed. It is disturbing that these boxes were marked with the name of a supervisor from a prior administration and are numbered in a fashion that is inconsistent with information about the case entered in the DAO's file database by a prior administration.

Since that discovery, access to those boxes has been offered to the Court and defense counsel as our constitutional obligations and transparency require.

Also, in light of the recent discovery of boxes, an exhaustive search is underway for more boxes that may be mis-marked or housed in obscure locations. Additional discoveries, if any, will be disclosed with constitutionally required transparency."

Abu-Jamal, a taxi driver and radio reporter, was convicted of killing Patrolman Daniel Faulkner after the policeman pulled over his brother in an overnight traffic stop.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.