Supporters of former death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal demonstrated outside the Criminal Justice Center in Center City Philadelphia as the convicted killer of a police officer fought for a new appeal hearing inside a packed courtroom.
Abu-Jamal, 64, is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for gunning down Officer Daniel Faulkner in Center City in 1981.
Faulkner’s widow, Maureen Faulkner, returned to Philadelphia to attend Monday morning’s hearing.
“I think to myself, 37 years of all I’ve done to try to keep this murderer behind bars and it comes down to this?” Faulkner asked in an interview with NBC10.
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Her husband was only 25 when he was shot and killed. Abu-Jamal was found guilty and sentenced to death in 1982. His sentence was changed to life in prison without parole in 2011.
More than one dozen Abu-Jamal’s supporters chanted “Free Mumia” ahead of the 9 a.m. hearing. The courtroom was packed and some people had to be turned away because there wasn't enough room. Abu-Jamal didn't attend the hearing.
A 2016 Supreme Court case opened up the door for Monday’s hearing revolving around a missing memorandum written by former Philadelphia District Attorney Ron Castille, who served as DA from 1986 to 1991.
Supporters of Abu-Jamal believe the document could prove that Castille unconstitutionally played a decisive role when he denied Abu-Jamal’s appeals, both as DA and later as a judge on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
A judge continued the hearing until Aug. 30 after the document Abu-Jamal's defense said they need to prove their petition was not found. The judge also approved a deposition of the employee who wrote the document to see if she can remember the contents.
Heading into Monday's hearing, Maureen Faulkner was hoping the judge Monday "puts an end to this." Outside of court after the hearing, Faulkner said that District Attorney Larry Krasner is going to "speak on my behalf... He has to stand up and speak out for these people and do the right thing and put criminals behind bars."
Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence and has become a symbol for groups seeking criminal justice reform. After the hearing, his supporters blocked some lanes near City Hall.