Friday, December 15, 2006
New Reports of Abu-Jamal Confession after 25 years
On 25th anniversary of Abu-Jamal's arrest, NBC 10 television reports two new accounts of Abu-Jamal's "hospital confession"
by Hans Bennett
Twenty five years ago black death-row prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was arrested for the murder of white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and later convicted in a 1982 trial that Amnesty International has declared a
"violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty.”
In the weeks leading up to December 9 (the 25th anniversary of Abu-Jamal's 1981 arrest), there were numerous stories in the local press about Abu-Jamal. Future Philadelphia mayoral candidate Chaka Fattah (currently a US congressman) came under attack from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) because he has long supported a new trial for Abu-Jamal.
Despite the FOP threat that they would actively campaign against his mayoral bid, Fattah stood by his support for a new trial. However, just days later, he voted for a congressional resolution condemning the French city of St. Denis for naming a major street after Abu-Jamal (passed 368-31).
Fattah said in a statement that despite being unconvinced that justice was served in the case, he voted for the resolution because "anyone who stands convicted of so terrible an offense is an affront to those who risk their lives on a daily basis to serve."
"The House action" said Pam Africa, chair of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, "is designed to weigh in on and promote an atmosphere in the U.S. judiciary that is prejudicial to Mumia's receiving any form of justice today."
Also noteworthy was a public concession from Joseph McGill (who was the prosecutor at Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial) in the Philadelphia Inquirer that Abu-Jamal could have been convicted of a lesser homicide charge if he had waged a “true defense.”
Two More People Say Mumia Confessed?
While these two news pieces were important, perhaps the most shocking story to emerge
amidst the flurry of news stories published last week was a Dec. 8 NBC 10 story reporting that two more people now say that they heard Abu-Jamal confess at the hospital before treatment for his gunshot wound.
NBC 10 reports that on Dec. 9, 1981 William Colarulo (now a Chief Inspector for the Philadelphia police) was a “rookie cop assigned to guard the door to the emergency room.” Colarulo told NBC 10 that after Abu-Jamal arrived at the hospital, he confessed to his then partner Tom Brady. "He said to my partner something to the effect, 'I'm glad I shot the M-F’. That’s what my partner said (Abu-Jamal) told him,” said Colarulo.
The second new account from that morning comes from Kathleen Gerrow. Now an executive producer at NBC 10, Gerrow was a radio reporter in 1981 covering the story at the hospital. "I distinctly remember a very distinctive voice shouting, 'I shot the mother f----er, I shot the mother f----er,” said Gerrow.
Pam Africa argues that these two new accounts show that the pro-execution lobby “is getting desperate. While these new accounts are supposed to strengthen the case against Mumia, it actually further exposes the confession story for what it is: a fraud. In 1982 it was unbelievable that police forgot about the confession for two months. Now we're supposed to believe that it took 25 years for these new people to remember it?”
Africa emphasizes that these new accounts come just months before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments and then decide if Abu-Jamal deserves a new trial. The FOP and other pro-execution forces “are scared that Mumia will get a new trial and years of injustice will be exposed. This is a desperate attempt to sway public opinion against Mumia.”
The Hospital Confession: a contentious history
Arguably the strongest evidence presented against Abu-Jamal in court, the “hospital confession” has long been one of the most contentious issues in the debate between the pro and anti-Mumia factions, and has been cited by Amnesty International as one of the reasons the organization calls for a new trial.
The first report of Abu-Jamal confessing to the murder of Faulkner came from the high-ranking Inspector Alfonso Giordano (former Captain of the Civil Defense unit). Arriving at 13th & Locust within minutes, Giordano claimed that Abu-Jamal confessed to him while lying in the police wagon. While the Philadelphia Bulletin immediately reported that Mumia “admitted shooting the police officer in a brief comment to Police Inspector Giordano,” the prosecution did not cite this during the 1982 trial—likely because of credibility issues. Shortly after Mumia’s arrest, Giordano resigned after learning that he was under federal investigation for corruption. Years later he pled guilty to federal charges of tax evasion for not reporting at least $55,000 earned from extortion in 1979 and 1980.
The first official police account of the “hospital confession,” was suspiciously introduced two months after Abu-Jamal's arrest. When interviewed (in February, 1982) by the police Internal Affairs Bureau investigating Mumia's police brutality complaint, Officers Wakshul, Bell, and hospital security guard Priscilla Durham then reported Mumia's supposed “hospital confession” for the first time.
Mumia allegedly declared (in the presence of 15-20 other cops that have never confirmed it): “I shot the motherfucker and I hope the motherfucker dies!”
Testifying in 1982, Bell (Faulkner's partner and “best friend”) claimed the two month mental lapse resulted from being so upset about Faulkner’s death.
At trial, Durham contradicted her statement to police and testified that she reported the confession to her supervisor the next day. While neither her supervisor or the alleged hand-written statement were presented in court, the DA sent an officer to the hospital--returning with a suspicious typed version of the alleged report. Sabo accepted the paper (not signed or dated) despite both Durham’s disavowal of it (because it was typed and not hand-written) and the defense’s protest that there was no establishment of authorship or authenticity.
Unfortunately, the jury never heard the most explosive evidence discrediting the confession. While the DA called Bell and Durham to testify, Wakshul was suspiciously absent. On the final day of testimony in 1982, Mumia's lawyer discovered Wakshul's statement from Dec.9—the morning of the shooting. After riding with Mumia to the hospital and guarding him until his treatment, Wakshul reported: “the negro male made no comment.”
When the defense immediately sought to call Wakshul as a witness—the DA reported that he was on vacation. On grounds that it was too late in the trial, Sabo denied the defense request to locate him for testimony. Subsequently, the jury never heard from Wakshul or about his written report. When an outraged Mumia protested, Sabo cruelly declared: “You and your attorney goofed.”
Gary Wakshul Publicly Beaten
Wakshul's “negro male” report was key evidence at the PCRA hearings, and it was well-known that he would have to testify to defend his “confession” story. Unknown to Mumia's lawyers, on July 13 (days before his PCRA testimony) Wakshul was savagely beaten by undercover police officers in front of a Judge in the Common Pleas Courtroom where he worked as a court crier. Almost two years later, the two attackers (members of Philly's Vice Squad) were suspended without pay as punishment. With the motive still unexplained, the beating was likely used to intimidate Wakshul into maintaining his “confession” story at the PCRA hearings.
On the stand, Wakshul defended both his Dec.9 report and the two month delay as just being a bad mistake. Further discrediting the “confession” story, he repeated his incredible statement given to the IAB investigator in 1982: “I didn’t realize it had any importance until that day.”
The original trial's injustice was further exposed when Wakshul testified to being home for his 1982 vacation—in accordance with explicit instructions to stay in town for the trial so that he could testify if called.
The “confession” story has been thoroughly discredited. As Amnesty International concluded: “The likelihood of two police officers and a security guard forgetting or neglecting to report the confession of a suspect in the killing of another police officer for more than two months strains credulity.”
25 Years of Lies
Advocates of Abu-Jamal's execution say the “hospital confession” reveals Abu-Jamal to be an arrogant and unrepentant killer--more than just proof of guilt. On the other end of the spectrum, supporters of Abu-Jamal argue that holes in the police account expose fabricated testimony.
In a recent essay contextualizing these new accounts within the 25-year execution campaign, longtime Abu-Jamal supporter Kevin Price has written that “these two new stories are weak attempts to piece together a fabricated confession that has long since crumbled. A quarter century later the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) are still desperately attempting to complete the task that they failed in 1981: the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
“In 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal was shot with a bullet through the lung, had his head repeatedly rammed into a steal pole, and in this critical condition was driven around Philadelphia in the back of a police paddy wagon for nearly an hour (even though the hospital was within a few blocks) as the police waited for him to die. Since Mumia did not die, the state’s next best option was to fabricate evidence and railroad him.”
This article is the latest installment in Bennett's series on Abu-Jamal focusing on December 9 and Abu-Jamal's upcoming oral arguments before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Check out the new series at:
All work by photojournalist Hans Bennett