(stay tuned for the video release of Herman's thoughts about Mumia Abu-Jamal and local media coverage of Abu-Jamal's case.)
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
(stay tuned for the video release of Herman's thoughts about Mumia Abu-Jamal and local media coverage of Abu-Jamal's case.)
Friday, December 19, 2008
At this critical stage in Abu-Jamal’s case, supporters organized a week of global solidarity actions that began on December 6, the day of the main protest in Philadelphia.
RELATED: Journalists for Mumia's video report from Dec. 6, plus extended footage of the crime scene presentation (download presentation flyer or view online version) II PVN's video report from Dec. 6 II Reports from the US, Venezuela, Germany (Hamburg and Berlin), and Mexico II From Mumia Abu-Jamal: Free the Atenco 13! II Legal Update II GeoClan.com interview with Hans Bennett II DVD video made for Dec. 6 events: Fighting for Mumia's Freedom: a report from Philadelphia II Media Mouse review of The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal
VIDEO: Dec. 6 Intl. Week of Solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal--a report from Philadelphia
VIDEO: Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal presentation at 13th and Locust crime scene
At this critical stage in Abu-Jamal’s case, supporters organized a week of global solidarity actions that began on December 6, the day of the large protest in Philadelphia, almost 27 years after Abu-Jamal was arrested for the December 9, 1981 shooting death of white 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".
There were solidarity actions inside the US and around the world, including
Protesters marched from the DA’s office to the
That week, Journalists for Mumia was featured by
In Mexico City, Mexico, supporters organized a week of actions, including a protest rally outside the US Embassy. Linking Mumia’s case to repression and political prisoners in
Braulio Alvarez, a member of the Venezuelan parliament and leader of the farmers struggle in
Berlin, Germany’s, week of solidarity culminated in a demonstration where hundreds marched to the US Embassy with slogans like "Freiheit für Mumia Abu-Jamal - Weg mit der Todesstrafe überall" ("Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal - Abolish the death penalty everywhere").
Also demonstrating the international interest in this case, the new British documentary film about Abu-Jamal, titled In Prison My Whole Life, premiered December 8 on the Sundance Channel. Previous interviews with William Francome, and Livia Giuggioli Firth, revealed that In Prison features an interview with Abu-Jamal’s brother Billy Cook, and the newly discovered crime scene photos. Officially endorsed by Amnesty International, Amnesty UK Director Kate Allen said: "We hope that the film's viewers will back our call for a fair retrial for Mumia Abu-Jamal--and also support our work opposing the death penalty in the
Appealing to the
(Illustration by Rainer Hachfeld,
Both the DA and Abu-Jamal are asking the US Supreme Court to consider their appeals of the March 27, 2008 rulings by the US Third Circuit Court, when the court denied Abu-Jamal a new guilt-phase trial but ruled that there must be a new sentencing- phase trial if the DA still wants the death penalty. Therefore, Abu-Jamal is appealing for a new guilt-phase trial, while the DA is appealing to execute him without a new sentencing-phase trial. On October 6, 2008, the US Supreme Court rejected an unrelated appeal from Abu-Jamal.
On March 27, 2008 the US Third Circuit Court's three-judge panel of Thomas Ambro, Anthony Scirica, and Robert Cowen ruled against three different appeal issues, refusing to grant either a new guilt-phase trial or a preliminary hearing that could have led to a new guilt-phase trial for Abu-Jamal. However, on the issue of racist jury selection, also known as the Batson claim, the three judge panel of split 2-1, with Ambro dissenting.
Abu-Jamal filed his appeal of this ruling with the US Supreme Court today, Dec. 19. Arguably the key issue will be the 1986 Batson v. Kentucky ruling, which established the right to a new trial if jurors were excluded on the basis of race. At the 1982 trial Prosecutor McGill used 10-11 of his 15 peremptory strikes to remove otherwise acceptable black jurors, yet the court ruled that there was not even the appearance of discrimination. In his dissenting opinion, Judge Ambro wrote that the denial of a preliminary Batson hearing "goes against the grain of our prior actions…I see no reason why we should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedents."
Separately, the DA is appealing to execute without a new sentencing-phase trial, having filed their brief on November 14, 2008. Abu-Jamal’s deadline to respond to this is January 21, 2009.
On March 27, the three-judge panel unanimously affirmed Federal District Court Judge William Yohn's 2001 decision "overturning" the death sentence. Citing the 1988 Mills v. Maryland precedent, Yohn had ruled that sentencing forms used by jurors and Judge Sabo's instructions to the jury were potentially confusing, and jurors could have mistakenly believed that they had to unanimously agree on any mitigating circumstances in order to consider them as weighing against a death sentence.
According to this ruling, if the DA wants to re-instate the death sentence, the DA must call for a new penalty-phase jury trial where new evidence of Mumia's innocence can be presented. However, the jury can only choose between a sentence of life in prison without parole or a death sentence.
The DA is appealing this 2001/2008 ruling to the US Supreme Court, so if the court agrees to consider the DA’s appeal and rules in their favor, Mumia can then be executed without benefit of the new sentencing trial. However, if the court upholds the 2001 and 2008 rulings, then the DA will either request a new sentencing trial or accept life in prison without the chance of parole.
Notably, at the DA's request, during the post-2001 appeals, Mumia has never left his death row cell or been given general population "privileges" such as contact visits with family.
Reacting to the DA’s Appeal
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: An investigation into the death row case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. He says that “the obsession of a string of Philadelphia district attorneys, beginning with current Governor Ed Rendell and ending with current DA Lynn Abraham with killing Mumia Abu-Jamal, despite his now having spent 26 years in the living hell of Pennsylvania's death row, is truly repulsive and inhuman. It has ruined the live of Daniel Faulkner's widow whose life has become a pathetic campaign of vengeance. It has cost the taxpayers of
William Francome, from the British film In Prison My Whole Life says that this “shows again the political nature of this case. It is my opinion that their office would not like to have to go through with another sentencing phase of the trial, with the attention that it would receive. They wish that this case would just disappear and that Mumia would be quiet, yet they do not want to face the Fraternal Order of Police who would be outraged if the DA wasn't pushing for a death sentence…The sad thing is that amongst the political battles, a man’s life is at stake and I find the attempt at reinstating the death sentence (which is a completely irreversible and inhumane practice), to be abhorrent.”
J. Patrick O’Connor is the author of “The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Despite several book tours and an important NY Times article when Framing was released in May 2008, it has been virtually ignored by the mainstream media. O’Connor argues that the DA’s appeal is “without merit and represents pure gamesmanship by outgoing D.A. Lynne Abraham…The last thing the Philadelphia DA's Office wants to conduct is a new sentencing hearing, an event it continues to put off by filing this latest appeal. That's really what this latest appeal is all about.”
The Power of the People
At the December 6 protest, Pam Africa stressed that the DA is trying to execute Abu-Jamal despite the strong evidence of both an unfair trial and innocence. Not having any faith in the court system, she argued that justice will only come from popular pressure, and made an urgent plea for supporters to do all they can at this critical hour. In his message recorded for the international week of solidarity, Abu-Jamal thanked his supporters and decried the recent denial of a new guilt-phase trial:
“My brothers and sisters, onaMOVE! I want you to know that the battle continues. It goes on because it must and it’s the right thing to do. As you’ve seen, the law is but politics by other means, and the judges but politicians in judges’ robes. It doesn’t matter what the cases say. It doesn’t matter what the so-called rules say. They’ve never followed them from Day One. What matters is what you say. What matters is what you do. So I thank you all for being there, for fighting for what’s right, for fighting for life, for fighting for liberty. I thank you all and I love you all. OnaMOVE! Long live John Africa! From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
Below are several graphics of the crime scene, based on the flyer made for the 13th and Locust crime scene presentation.
THE MISSING TAXI: On Dec. 8, 2007, Journalists for Mumia gave a slide show presentation of the newly discovered crime scene photos, that were taken by press photographer Pedro Polakoff. This photo being presented, at the far right, shows the very back of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner’s police car. The large, empty space directly behind it, is where alleged “eye-witness” Robert Chobert testified he was parked, as he “witnessed” the shooting of Officer Faulkner.
IS THIS CHOBERT’S TAXI? This crime scene photo appeared on a recent anti-Mumia You Tube video. The photo is apparently taken from 13th St., north of Locust, and facing south towards Locust St. This is exactly where investigator George Michael Newman states that Chobert told him he was actually parked. So, is the car on the left Chobert’s taxi?
(4) Mumia’s car (5) Scanlan’s car (Short Arrow at 1234 Locust) The trajectory of the bullet inside the vestibule (Long Arrow From 4) Mumia’s direction approaching the scene. Note that Mumia’s direction is in contradiction to the bullet trajectory and the fragments found in the wall. Officer Faulkner was more likely shot in the back by someone standing on the curb next to Billy Cook’s car (2), with the bullet traveling North, away from 1234 Locust, after exiting Officer Faulkner’s body.
(1) Ford parked in front of VW (2) Billy Cook’s VW (3) Faulkner’s police squad car The “X”-Marks, From Left to Right: X entry location of bullet fragment found inside the vestibule of 1234 Locust X copper bullet jacket on sidewalk X whole bullet found in frame of entrance door X 7 very small lead fragments found in lower wall
Michael Scanlan's account at Billy Cook's trial
The straight arrow shows where Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was allegedly standing and the direction he was facing when shot. The curved line shows Mumia’s approach before allegedly shooting Faulkner. Accordingly, while Faulkner was standing in front of Billy Cook’s VW and facing west up Locust St., Mumia passed by Faulkner’s right side and looped around before shooting him in the back.
The straight arrow shows where Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was allegedly standing and the direction he was facing when shot. The curved line shows Mumia’s approach before allegedly shooting Faulkner. Accordingly, while Faulkner was standing in front of his police car and facing east down Locust St., Mumia came in front of Faulkner and looped around before shooting him in the back.
Complementing the newly discovered crime scene photos taken by press photographer Pedro Polakoff, this official police crime scene photo (not taken by Polakoff) shows that on the sidewalk, where Officer Faulkner was found, there are no large bullet divots, or destroyed chunks of cement, which should be visible in the pavement if the prosecution scenario was accurate, according to which Abu-Jamal shot down at Faulkner at close range – and allegedly missed several times – while Faulkner was on his back. German author Michael Schiffmann writes: “It is thus no question any more whether the scenario presented by the prosecution at Abu-Jamal’s trial is true. It is clearly not, because it is physically and ballistically impossible.”
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
This new DVD video focuses on the March 27, 2008 denial of a new guilt-phase trial for Mumia, the DA's continued attempt to execute him, and the response of Mumia and his international support network. Fighting can be viewed via You Tube (parts 1 and 2) or Google Video. You can also download the 150 MB wmv file.Featuring original footage from 2008 in Philadelphia, this video focuses on the March 27, 2008 denial of a new guilt-phase trial for death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, the DA's continued attempt to execute him, and the response of Abu-Jamal and his international support network. This features Pam Africa, Linn Washington Jr., Sundiata Sadiq, J. Patrick O'Connor, Ramona Africa, Julia Wright, Veronica Jones, Rebel Diaz, and more.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Please be sure to download (and print out in your community) our two new info flyers just completed: 1) A condensed legal update, and 2) A flyer summarizing the key points from The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia Abu-Jamal Faces US Supreme Court as New Book and Film Expose Injustice
By Hans Bennett
On Monday, Oct.6, in a ruling unrelated to death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal's upcoming appeal of the recent Third Circuit decision denying a new guilt-phase trial, the US Supreme Court rejected his Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) appeal, which was asking the courts to hear newly discovered testimony from Kenneth Pate and Yvette Williams (read the affidavits here). The appeal had been filed in July, after it was rejected by the PA Supreme Court in Feb, 2008, and in 2005 by Philadelphia Judge Pamela Dembe.
Upset by Monday's news, Dr. Suzanne Ross, Co-Chair of The NYC Free Mumia Coalition argued: "The courts, from Judge Albert Sabo's outrageously biased rulings and court decorum; to Pamela Dembe's ridiculous rulings, including her disregard of the significance of Sabo's infamous 'I'm going to help them fry the Nigger' remark; to the PA Supreme Court's rubber stamping of Sabo's and Dembe's rulings; to Judge William Yohn's refusal to examine the question of innocence, to the Third Circuit's 'topsy turvy' violations of their own precedents in considering the Batson issue so that they could deny Abu-Jamal the trial he is entitled to, have all shown a callous disregard for the life of a man who is obviously innocent, and have done everything in their power to assure that Mumia Abu-Jamal will never see the light of day from other than the twisted prism of a prison. This last decision is yet another outrageous chapter in a 27 year history of a conspiracy to imprison, kill, and silence Mumia Abu-Jamal."
With the court's PCRA rejection, Abu-Jamal's upcoming appeal to the US Supreme Court of the Third Circuit decision (the filing of this appeal is due by Oct. 20 unless a 60 day extension is requested) is now more important than ever, because this is now his last chance for a new guilt-phase trial. Fortunately, this crucial moment for Abu-Jamal coincides with two new media projects that expose injustice in his case that extends well beyond the narrow issues being considered by the courts: the British film In Prison My Whole Life and the book The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, by J. Patrick O'Connor.
Both projects merit extensive coverage from the mainstream media, and are being utilized as tools by Abu-Jamal's supporters for both education and fighting what they see as a long history of mainstream media bias against Abu-Jamal. Supporters are currently organizing for a major demonstration in Philadelphia on December 6, organized in solidarity with other actions around the world.
The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, by J. Patrick O'Connor
Acclaimed historian Howard Zinn has written that "J. Patrick O’Connor’s new book, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal is based on a meticulous review of 12,000 pages of court transcripts, legal briefs, police records and an exhaustive examination of the constitutional violations perpetrated by America's criminal 'justice' system. His evidence makes a powerful case that Mumia Abu-Jamal should be granted a new trial, and having been cruelly kept on death row for 26 years, he should be immediately freed.”
In Framing, O’Connor criticizes the media, who he says “bought into the prosecution’s story line early on and has never been able to see this case for what it is: a framing of an innocent and peace loving man.” As explained in a recent interview, O'Connor argues that the actual shooter was a man named Kenneth Freeman, who was Billy Cook's business partner and who O'Connor argues was a passenger in Cook's car when it was pulled over by Officer Daniel Faulkner the morning of Dec. 9, 1981. Freeman was mysteriously found dead in a Northeast lot (reportedly naked, gagged, hand-cuffed, and with a drug needle in his arm) the day after the infamous May 13, 1985 police bombing of MOVE, leading O'Connor to conclude that "the timing and modus operandi of the abduction and killing alone suggest an extreme act of police vengeance."
Despite the importance of Framing, and a timely NY Times article that spotlighted the book's release in May, the mainstream media has virtually ignored O'Connor's book. Supporters of Abu-Jamal are fighting back against this media blackout, and on October 3, author J. Patrick O'Connor began a week-long book tour in the SF Bay Area, which followed his tour of New York City and Philadelphia in June. Click here for a compilation of radio shows, interviews with, and articles by & about O'Connor--including this video interview at Philadelphia City Hall on the day of the book's release (WATCH PARTS 1, 2, and 3).
The Sundance Channel Acquires New British Film About Mumia
Scheduled to premiere on The Sundance Channel on December 8, 2008, the new film, titled In Prison My Whole Life has been officially endorsed by Amnesty International, who in 2000 published a major report calling for a new trial. Amnesty UK Director Kate Allen said: "It's shocking that the US justice system has repeatedly failed to address the appalling violation of Mumia Abu-Jamal's fundamental fair trial rights....We hope that the film's viewers will back our call for a fair retrial for Mumia Abu-Jamal--and also support our work opposing the death penalty in the US and around the world."
In Prison character and filmmaker, William Francome was born on the night of Mumia’s 1981 arrest. Responding to the Sundance acquisition, he said: "Mumia's case and the issues surrounding it are still highly important and need to be analyzed...It is so important that a trusted high quality broadcaster like Sundance has taken up the film, putting it at the fingertips of millions of Americans."
On October 10, there is a special press conference, reception, and screening of In Prison at Theatre Pathe Vaise in Lyon, France, featuring the former French First Lady, Madame Daniele Mitterrand, producers Colin Firth & Livia Giuggioli-Firth, Abu-Jamal's lead attorney Robert R. Bryan, representatives of Amnesty International, and a message from Mumia to be read to the audience. In Prison has already been shown at many prestigious film festivals including The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival and Rome's International Film Festival in 2007, The Sundance Film Festival, in January, 2008, and this September at NYC's Urbanworld Film Festival, and at the CR10 prison abolitionist conference in Oakland, CA.
An October, 2007 interview with Francome, and a September, 2008 interview with co-producer Livia Giuggioli Firth, revealed that In Prison features 1) the first interview ever with Billy Cook, and 2) a presentation of the crime scene photos recently aired on NBC's Today Show, featuring an interview with the photographer Pedro Polakoff, and the German author that recently discovered them, Michael Schiffmann.
Mumia’s brother Billy Cook was at the scene on Dec. 9, 1981, after Officer Faulkner pulled Cook’s VW car over. Interviewed in the film, Cook denies the accusation that he struck Faulkner in the face, from which he allegedly instigated the documented beating by Faulkner. Cook shows In Prison's interviewers the scars from the beating, which are still on his head today. "They arrested me for assaulting him, but I never laid a hand on him. I was only trying to protect myself," says Cook, who also reports that before he was beaten bloody with the police flashlight, Faulkner "was kind of vulgar and nasty. And if I remember correctly he threw a slur in... 'Nigger' get back in the car."
In Prison features the first interview with press photographer Pedro Polakoff, along with German author, Dr. Michael Schiffmann (University of Heidelberg), who discovered Polakoff's photos (never seen by the 1982 jury) and featured them in his new German book Race Against Death, published in Fall, 2006. William Francome argues that the photos "were purposefully ignored by the prosecution and the DA’s Office", because the DA knew that the photographs "could have done their case some damage in court." (For more on the photos, go to Journalists for Mumia's website: Abu-Jamal-News.com)
Appealing The Third Circuit Ruling to The US Supreme Court
On July 22, the Third Circuit Court ruled against Mumia's en banc appeal requesting that the entire court hear his appeal, instead of just the three-judge panel of Thomas Ambro, Anthony Scirica, and Robert Cowen, who previously ruled against a new guilt-phase trial on March 27, 2008. Ruling against three different appeal issues, the court refused to grant either a new guilt-phase trial or a preliminary hearing that could have led to a new guilt-phase trial for Mumia. However, on the issue of racist jury selection, also known as the Batson claim, the three judge panel of split 2-1, with Ambro dissenting.
The 1986 Batson v. Kentucky ruling established the right to a new trial if jurors were excluded on the basis of race. At the 1982 trial Prosecutor McGill used 10 of his 15 peremptory strikes to remove otherwise acceptable black jurors, yet the court ruled that there was not even the appearance of discrimination. In his dissenting opinion, Ambro wrote that the denial of a preliminary Batson hearing “goes against the grain of our prior actions…I see no reason why we should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedents.”
Mumia will be filing an appeal of this ruling with the US Supreme Court by the deadline of Oct. 20, unless he applies for a 60 day extension. The District Attorney has the same Oct. 20 deadline to appeal the Third Circuit ruling regarding the 'overturning' of the death sentence, if they choose to do so.
On March 27, the three-judge panel unanimously affirmed Federal District Court Judge William Yohn’s 2001 decision overturning the death sentence. Citing the 1988 Mills v. Maryland precedent, Yohn had ruled that sentencing forms used by jurors and Judge Sabo’s instructions to the jury were potentially confusing, and jurors could have mistakenly believed that they had to unanimously agree on any mitigating circumstances in order to consider them as weighing against a death sentence.
Now, if the DA wants to re-instate the death sentence, the DA must call for a new penalty-phase jury trial where new evidence of Mumia’s innocence can be presented. However, the jury can only choose between a sentence of life in prison without parole or a death sentence.
Or, the DA can appeal this ruling to the US Supreme Court by the deadline of Oct. 20. The DA has not stated whether or not it will: (1) appeal this to the US Supreme Court, or (2) accept the Third Circuit ruling and either request a new sentencing trial or accept life in prison without the chance of parole.
US Supreme Court Rejects Mumia Abu-Jamal's PCRA Appeal
On Monday, October 6 (in a ruling unrelated to the above-mentioned appeal of the 3rd Circuit ruling), the US Supreme Court rejected Mumia’s Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) appeal, which was asking the courts to hear newly discovered testimony from Kenneth Pate and Yvette Williams (read the affidavits here). The appeal had been filed in July, after it was rejected by the PA Supreme Court in Feb, 2008, and in 2005 by Philadelphia Judge Pamela Dembe.
Philadelphia journalist Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time, an independent investigation into the Abu-Jamal case. Responding on Monday to the US Supreme Court ruling he said: "One of the travesties that is part of American death penalty jurisprudence, and that contributes to the inescapable conclusion that it can never be fair or foolproof, is that the bar for getting a new hearing based upon new evidence is set almost impossibly high. So for example, even though we have in these two affidavits evidence that a key witness at trial to an alleged confession had been pressured or lured into lying on the stand, and that a second alleged eye-witness had been pressured and induced into claiming she was a witness when she actually wasn't one, the US Supreme Court rules that it will not even review the matter or order a lower court to do so. And so it is possible that Mumia Abu-Jamal, a man who could in fact be innocent of murder, will either die or be left to rot in jail for the rest of his life while he could be the victim of police witness tampering and prosecutorial misconduct."
Another Philadelphia journalist was dismayed by Monday's ruling, and hopes it is not an indication of how the court will respond to the upcoming, separate appeal of the 3rd Circuit ruling. Having covered this story since 1981, Temple University professor and Philadelphia Tribune columnist Linn Washington, Jr. argues that "the Williams revelation by itself at least deserves a formal hearing...as does the jury selection discrimination issue. However, state and federal courts continue with the pattern in the Abu-Jamal case of circling the wagons to shut-out any evidence exposing the major flaws of the 1982 trial and that jury's guilty verdict."
Let's take a closer look at these two rejected affidavits that shed light on the broader issue of fabricated evidence used to convict Mumia Abu-Jamal.
KENNETH PATE'S AFFIDAVIT AND THE FAKE 'HOSPITAL CONFESSION'
Kenneth Pate is the step-brother of hospital security guard Priscilla Durham, who testified at the 1982 trial to hearing Abu-Jamal confess at the hospital, to shooting Officer Daniel Faulkner. Pate now states in an April 18, 2003 affidavit that Durham confided to him during a telephone conversation "around the end of 1983 or the beginning of 1984" that she had actually lied about hearing the alleged hospital confession.
Pate states that Durham told him on the telephone that "Mumia was all bloody and the police were interfering with his treatment, saying 'let him die.' Priscilla said that the police told her that she was part of the 'brotherhood' of police since she was a security guard and that she had to stick with them and say that she heard Mumia say that he killed the police officer, when they brought Mumia in on a stretcher.''
Even before Pate's affidavit, Durham's account was very suspicious.
The alleged "hospital confession," where Mumia reportedly declared, "I shot the motherf***er and I hope the motherf***er dies," was first officially reported to police over two months later, by hospital guards Priscilla Durham and James LeGrand (Feb. 9, 1982), PO Gary Wakshul (Feb.11), PO Gary Bell (Feb.25), and PO Thomas M. Bray (March1).
Only two of these five witnesses were called by the DA: Priscilla Durham and Gary Bell (Faulkner's partner and "best friend").
Priscilla Durham and Gary Bell
Durham testified in 1982, and added for the very first time (not reported to the police on Feb.9), that she had reported the confession to her supervisor the next day, making a hand-written report. Neither her supervisor, nor the alleged handwritten statement were presented in court.
Instead, the DA sent an officer to the hospital, returning with a suspicious typed version. Sabo accepted the unsigned and unauthenticated paper despite both Durham's disavowal (because it was not hand-written), and the defense's protest that authorship and authenticity were unproven.
Gary Bell testified that his two month memory lapse resulted from him being so upset over the death of Faulkner, that he forgot to report it to police.
Gary Wakshul: 'the negro male made no comment.'
Police Officer Gary Wakshul was not a prosecution witness, and on the final day of testimony in 1982, Mumia's lawyer discovered Wakshul's statement from Dec. 9, 1981 (Mumia's supporters cite this late discovery as another example of incompetent representation--to which defense attorney Anthony Jackson testified about at the 1995 PCRA hearings).
After riding with Abu-Jamal 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 contradictory written report. When an outraged Abu-Jamal protested, Judge Sabo cruelly declared to him: "You and your attorney goofed."
At the 1995 PCRA Hearings, Wakshul testified that both his contradictory Dec. 9 "the negro male made no comment" report and the two month delay were simply bad mistakes. He repeated his earlier February 11, 1982 statement given to the police IAB investigator that he "didn't realize it had any importance until that day." Wakshul also 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.
Mysteriously, just days before his PCRA testimony, Wakshul was savagely beaten by undercover police officers in front of a Judge in the Common Pleas Courtroom, where Wakshul worked as a court crier.The two attackers were later suspended without pay, as punishment. With the motive still unexplained, the beating was possibly used to intimidate Wakshul into maintaining his "confession" story at the PCRA hearings.
Regarding the alleged confession, 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."
YVETTE WILLIAMS' AFFIDAVIT AND CYNTHIA WHITE'S FALSE TESTIMONY
Yvette Williams' July 8, 2002 affidavit, is the just latest evidence discrediting the prosecution's star witness at the 1982 trial: Cynthia White.
Suspiciously, no official eyewitness even reported seeing White at the scene, and White is the only "witness" to report seeing alleged eyewitness Robert Chobert's taxi cab parked behind PO Faulkner's car.
Amnesty International documents that key DA witnesses Chobert (an arsonist on probation, driving his cab without a license) and White (a prostitute facing multiple charges) "altered their descriptions of what they saw, in ways that supported the prosecution's version of events."
Importantly, Williams' account of 1) White being coerced by police to give false testimony, and 2) Police seeking out even more false testimony, is strongly supported by the testimony of Veronica Jones (at the 1982 trial and the 1996 PCRA) and Pamela Jenkins (at the 1997 PCRA).
The New Affidavit
Yvette Williams declares: "I was in jail with Cynthia White in December of 1981 after Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was shot and killed. Cynthia ['Lucky'] White told me the police were making her lie and say she saw Mr. Jamal shoot Officer Faulkner when she really did not see who did it....Whenever she talked about testifying against Mumia Abu-Jamal, and how the police were making her lie, she was nervous and very excited and I could tell how scared she was from the way she was talking and crying."
Explaining why she is just now coming out with her affidavit, Williams says "I feel like I've almost had a nervous breakdown over keeping quiet about this all these years. I didn't say anything because I was afraid. I was afraid of the police. They're dangerous."
Pamela Jenkins' 1997 PCRA Testimony
At the 1997 PCRA hearing, former prostitute Pamela Jenkins testified that 1) Police tried pressuring her to falsely testify that she saw Abu-Jamal shoot Faulkner, and 2) In late 1981, Cynthia White (who Jenkins knew as a fellow police informant) told Jenkins that she was also being pressured to testify against Mumia, and that she was afraid for her life.
As part of a 1995 federal probe of Philadelphia police corruption, Officers Thomas F. Ryan and John D. Baird were convicted of paying Jenkins to falsely testify that she had bought drugs from a Temple University student named Arthur Colbert. Jenkins' 1995 testimony about Colbert and others she falsely testified against, helped to convict Ryan, Baird, and other officers and to dismiss several dozen drug convictions.
At the 1997 PCRA, Jenkins testified that this same Thomas F. Ryan was one of the officers who attempted to have her lie about Mumia!
The Attempts to Silence Veronica Jones
Veronica Jones (a former prostitute who was working at the scene) first told police that she had seen two men "jogging" away from the scene before police arrived. Then, as a defense witness at the 1982 trial, Jones denied making the statement, but started to describe a pre-trial visit from police, where "They were getting on me telling me I was in the area and I seen Mumia, you know, do it..They were trying to get me to say something that the other girl [Cynthia White] said. I couldn't do that." Jones then explicitly testified that police offered to let her and White "work the area if we tell them" what they wanted to hear regarding Mumia's guilt.
The DA moved to block her account, calling her testimony "absolutely irrelevant." Judge Sabo agreed to block the line of questioning, strike the testimony, and then ordered the jury to disregard Jones' statement.
Later, at the 1996 PCRA, Jones testified that in 1982 she had been coerced by police to recant seeing the two men jogging away, but resisted police pressure to falsely testify that she saw Abu-Jamal shoot Faulkner.
Intimidation of Jones continued at the PCRA. Before she testified, Judge Sabo threatened her with 5-10 yrs imprisonment for admitting perjury. After testifying, he allowed NJ police to handcuff and arrest her for an outstanding arrest warrant on charges of writing a bad check.
Outraged by Jones' treatment, even the normally 'anti-Mumia' Philadelphia Daily News reported that: "Such heavy-handed tactics can only confirm suspicions that the court is incapable of giving Abu-Jamal a fair hearing. Sabo has long since abandoned any pretense of fairness." (Read more about Jones, and watch a new video-interview with her)
Organizing for Dec. 9 and Beyond
German author and co-founder of Journalists for Mumia, Michael Schiffmann responded to Monday's ruling from his home in Heidelberg. Emphasizing that these two affidavits are important enough to merit a PCRA hearing, Schiffmann says "there's just one point I want to stress. Right-wing and FOP commentators will claim that the Williams and Pate affidavits were hearsay anyway. But this isn't true. If someone reports a crime commited by him/herself to me, that's called a statement 'against one's own interest,' and if I report it to the police or testify to it in court, my report or testimony is admissible. Of course, both statements are highly relevant: White and Durham were main pillars of the prosecution. If they admitted to other people that they lied in court, the testimony of these other people should be heard."
"Now we will have to redouble our efforts to ensure that the US Supreme Court grants the petition for writ of certiorari Mumia's lawyer will be filing later this month or in December, if given a 60 day extension," says Schiffmann.
Please visit FreeMumia.com for the latest updates on organizing for December 6 and be sure to download (and print out in your community) our two new info flyers just completed: 1) A condensed legal update based on this article, and 2) A flyer summarizing the key points from The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and promoting the West Coast Book Tour.
--Hans Bennett is an independent multi-media journalist (insubordination.blogspot.com) and co-founder of Journalists for Mumia (Abu-Jamal-News.com), whose new video series documenting the movement in Philadelphia to free Mumia and all political prisoners is viewable here.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
New British Film About Mumia Abu-Jamal Showing in NYC and Oakland
--An interview with Livia Giuggioli Firth, co-producer of "In Prison My Whole Life"
For the first time since the film's US Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last January, "In Prison My Whole Life" will be shown to a US audience. This new film about the internationally renowned death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal will be shown this week at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City. The film has two different screenings, both at the AMC Loews 34th Street Theatre: Thursday, Sept 11, 1:45pm, at Theatre # 11 and on Saturday, Sept 13, 6:15pm, at Theatre # 9. In Prison is also being shown at the CR10 Conference in Oakland, CA, on September 26.
This new British documentary premiered at the prestigious London Film Festival and at Rome's International Film Festivals on October 25, 2007, at which point I interviewed William Francome, who is a central character in the film. The film's trailer begins with Francome, explaining that he's "been aware of Mumia for as long as I can remember. That’s because he was arrested on the night I was born, for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer. As my mom would often remind me, every birthday I had, has been another year that Mumia has spent in prison.... I am going on a journey to find out about the man who has been in prison my whole life."
With the acclaimed British actor Colin Firth as an executive producer, "In Prison My Whole Life" is directed by Marc Evans and produced by Livia Giuggioli Firth and Nick Goodwin Self. The film has interviews with such figures as Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Ramona Africa, and musicians Mos Def, Snoop Dogg and Steve Earle. Amnesty International concluded in a previous report that Abu-Jamal's original 1982 trial was unfair, where he was convicted of fatally shooting Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death. Amnesty International is supporting In Prison as part of its international campaign to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen says: "It's shocking that the US justice system has repeatedly failed to address the appalling violation of Mumia Abu-Jamal's fundamental fair trial rights."
In the 2007 interview, Francome disclosed that the film will prominently feature the startling Dec. 9, 1981 crime scene photos that were recently discovered by German author Michael Schiffmann, and are published in his new book.
The July 4, 2008 issue of Abu-Jamal-News revealed that In Prison also features an interview with Abu-Jamal's brother Billy Cook, who was at the scene on Dec. 9, 1981, after Officer Faulkner pulled his car over. The first time he has ever been interviewed on camera, Cook denies the accusation that he struck Faulkner in this face, from which he allegedly instigated the undisputed beating given to him by Faulkner, from which Cooks shows In Prison's interviewers the scars he still has on his head today. Cook says: “They arrested me for assaulting him, but I never laid a hand on him. I was only trying to protect myself. I never hit him. I never hit him.” Cook says that right before he was beaten bloody with the police flashlight, Faulkner “was kind of vulgar and nasty. And if I remember correctly he threw a slur in.... Nigger get back in the car.”
Regarding the assault charges against Cook, and his subsequent trial, Michael Schiffmann defends Cook's account in his recent essay, arguing that there was never any credible evidence that Cook ever struck Faulkner, and also that the prosecution’s two alleged eyewitnesses gave unbelievable accounts of how Abu-Jamal approached Faulkner and allegedly shot him in the back.
In this new interview with co-producer Livia Giuggioli Firth, she talks about when she first learned about Mumia Abu-Jamal, making the film, the new appeal to the US Supreme Court, and more. "I hope Mumia will have a new trial, because has been sitting in solitary confinement for 27 years, and it is a disgrace. We will never know the truth about Dec. 9, 1981 until then," says Firth.
Hans Bennett: When did you first hear of Mumia Abu-Jamal?
Livia Giuggioli Firth: A couple of years ago, at a dinner party at some friends’ house, I met William Francome and we started to chat (as you do at parties!). He told me he just finished college and wanted to make a documentary about Mumia. I’d never heard of him so he explained me who he was. When I got home and googled him... it was like opening Pandora's vase! That was enough to say: we need to dig into this!
HB: What was it like making the film? What role did you play as a producer?
LGF: Marc Evans, the director, is the one who did the film. I produced it - which means my role has been the ball-breaker! But it was very interesting to start the "Mumia quest" from scratch and with folks who had never heard of him. Apart from William, none of us (Marc the director, Colin, Nick and I who produced it, Mags the editor and so on for the whole crew) had any idea of the implications in Mumia's case.
If you detach everything from this "figure" constructed by both Mumia’s supporters and detractors, you just find a man who has been victim of politics more than anything else. This was what really fascinated us all when we approached the subject, and this is why Marc Evans wanted to contextualize Mumia's case within the African American political story. If you do not put Mumia in context - you can not understand this story.
Because the whole scenario around Dec. 9, 1981 was so complicated, distorted, and messed up, we decided to go to Amnesty International--an organization recognized worldwide for being completely objective and impartial--and asked for their guidance. They published a book in 2000 about Mumia's case and concluded that it is impossible to know whether this man is guilty or not because the trail was in violation of international law--a completely unfair trail.
HB: After researching this case, what are 3 facts that you consider most striking regarding the need for a new trial?
LGF: There are so many compelling things about this case that overcome any & all assaults from those who refuse to accept that the core issue here is an unfair trial. Having said this, some examples are:
First, there was no real forensic evidence presented in court. They never officially tested Mumia's hands for traces of gun powder, never officially found the bullet shot through Faulkner’s back, and more. With the discovery of Pedro Polakoff's crime scene photographs, you can clearly see how messed up the crime scene was that night!
Second, the testimonies supporting the prosecution scenario were false - all of them!
Third, the presiding judge, Albert Sabo was heard saying, on the FIRST DAY of the trail, "I am going to help them fry that nigger." Then, shocking us even more, Mumia's 1995-97 PCRA appeal was before this same judge. Are you joking?
HB: Mumia’s current appeal to the Supreme Court will be citing 3rd Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro’s dissenting opinion, which declared that the court had actually created new standards for a Batson claim, when it denied Mumia’s claim. Do you think this strong statement has received adequate coverage in the mainstream media?
LGF: Not really, but again, there are so many awful cases in America like Mumia's. So many innocent people are sentenced after unfair trails. Look at Troy Davis! That is another horrible case.
Hopefully the film will help people to think and realize that maybe there is more to the story. And hopefully it will help other cases too.
You can't dismiss Mumia as a “cop killer". Also, until there is a new trial, you will never know if he really is a "cold blooded monster" as they call him.
HB: Do you think the Supreme Court will now consider Mumia’s case?
LGF: This is a very difficult question. I do not know. It is not very likely, but you never know! If I did not have hope, I would never have produced this movie!
HB: Your film features a new interview with Billy Cook. What do you think is the significance of this interview?
LGF: Well, first of all Billy has never spoken since the night of the shooting. He was not called to testify and "disappeared" after that. So this is the first time he gets to talk about what happened that night. He will not tell the whole story until there is a new trial but he confirmed a few interesting things. You must see the movie!
HB: Anything else to add?
LGF: I hope Mumia will have a new trial, because has been sitting in solitary confinement for 27 years, and it is a disgrace. We will never know the truth about Dec. 9, 1981 until then.
All work by photojournalist Hans Bennett
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Video and Photo-essay: At The Liberty Bell for Mumia on July 4
--"Fourth of You Lie" protest exposes hypocrisy of Independence Day
by Hans Bennett
On the 4th of July, over 75 supporters of death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal gathered in Philadelphia to protest outside the Constitution Center, which is directly across the street from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. This event also marked the release of the third issue of the Journalists for Mumia newspaper, Abu-Jamal-News (VIEW PDF).
The edited feature video (VIEW HERE) from the day spotlights excerpts from Pam Africa's speech, performances by Rebel Diaz and Taina Asili, and exclusive interviews with Sundiata Sadiq, Theresa Shoatz, Ted Passon, and others. In addition you can also watch Pam Africa's full, unedited speech (VIEW HERE) and the performances by Taina Asili & Rebel Diaz (VIEW HERE).
The July 4 event featured a fiery speech from Pam Africa (coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal) who spoke about the significance of the "Fourth of You Lie" holiday in relation to Mumia's case, as well as the continued genocide of Native Americans, US wars of aggression, denial of parole to the MOVE 9, and more.
Sundiata Sadiq is the former President of the Ossining NAACP, and is the author of Critical Moment for Mumia Abu-Jamal While Black Leadership Is Silent, which was a featured cover story in the new issue of Abu-Jamal-News.
Theresa Shoatz is the daughter of political prisoner Russell "Maroon" Shoatz, who is housed at SCI-Greene along with Mumia. He is in urgent need of medical treatment, which has been denied by the prison authorities. Theresa has issued an action alert asking for support from the public.
Taina Asili (www.tainapoet.com) is a longtime supporter of Mumia, the MOVE 9, and all political prisoners.
As reported by Davey D, Alexander Billet, and The SF Bay View, members of Rebel Diaz (www.rebeldiaz.com) have recently been arrested and harassed by the NYPD. During their performance, Rebel Diaz asked "How is Mumia on death row, and Dick Cheney is free?".
--Photos, Video, and text by Hans Bennett (insubordination.blogspot.com), who is an independent multi-media journalist and co-founder of Journalists for Mumia, whose website is Abu-Jamal-News.com
"The newly discovered photographs reveal the fact that the police were actively manipulating evidence at the homicide scene." - Lead Attorney Robert R. Bryan
Photo 1: Mishandling the Guns - Officer James Forbes holds both Abu-Jamal's and Faulkner's guns in his bare hand and touches the metal parts. This contradicts his later court testimony that he had preserved the ballistics evidence.
Photos 2 & 3: The Moving Hat - Faulkner's hat is moved from the top of Billy Cook's VW, and placed on the sidewalk for the official police photo.
Photo 4: The Missing Taxi - Robert Chobert testified that he was parked directly behind Faulkner's car, but the space is empty in the photo.
The Missing Divots - On the sidewalk, where Faulkner was found, there are no large bullet divots, or destroyed chunks of cement, which should be visible in the pavement if the prosecution scenario was accurate, according to which Abu-Jamal shot down at Faulkner - and allegedly missed several times - while Faulkner was on his back. Dr. Michael Schiffmann writes: "It is thus no question any more whether the scenario presented by the prosecution at Abu-Jamal's trial is true. It is clearly not, because it is physically and ballistically impossible."
Sunday, May 04, 2008
VIDEO interview with J. Patrick O'Connor: "The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal"
by Hans Bennett
On May 1, the day of his book's release, author J. Patrick O'Connor was interviewed at Philadelphia City Hall about "The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal." The following day, The New York Times featured the book in an article by Jon Hurdle: "Book Asserts Black Reporter Didn't Kill White Officer in '81."
This is part one of a three part interview. PART ONE focuses on why O'Connor believes Abu-Jamal is innocent and the actual shooter was Kenneth Freeman. PART TWO will focus on the March 27 decision by The US Third Circuit Court of Appeals denying a new guilt-phase trial. PART THREE focuses on the MOVE 9 parole hearings and the recent denial of parole for the three women.
J. Patrick O’Connor argues that Kenneth Freeman was the actual shooter of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. O’Connor criticizes the media, who, he says “bought into the prosecution’s story line early on and has never been able to see this case for what it is: a framing of an innocent and peace loving man.”
Included below is an April interview with O'Connor where he explains further about the frame-up, Kenneth Freeman, the 3rd Circuit ruling, and the legacy of Frank Rizzo.
For more on “The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal” Abu-Jamal-News.com features an excerpt, a previous interview, O’Connor’s review of “Murdered By Mumia,” and his response to the March 27 ruling.
The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal:
An interview with author J. Patrick O’Connor
By Hans Bennett
On March 27, the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against granting a new guilt-phase trial to world-famous journalist and death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. While ruling against the three issues that could have led to a new guilt-phase trial, the court affirmed US District Court Judge Yohn's 2001 decision overturning the death sentence. If the District Attorney wants to re-instate the death sentence, the DA must call for a new penalty-phase jury trial that would be limited to the question of life in prison without a chance of parole or a re-instatement of the death sentence.
At this critical juncture in Abu-Jamal’s case, an explosive new book was just released this May, titled “The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” by J. Patrick O’Connor, and published by Lawrence Hill Books. O’Connor explains that he “was an associate editor for TV Guide at its headquarters in nearby Radnor, Pennsylvania during the time Officer Faulkner was killed and Abu-Jamal was put on trial and convicted of murdering him….Sometime in the mid-1990s I began hearing and seeing the ‘Free Mumia’ slogan. In 1996, when HBO premiered the one-hour documentary ‘Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?’, I developed some questions about the verdict and certainly the fairness of his trial.” Soon, O’Connor had “read all the trial transcripts as well as all of the transcripts from Abu-Jamal’s Post‑Conviction Relief Act hearings that were held in 1995, and continued in 1996 and 1997. I also read all the contemporaneous newspaper articles from The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, as well as all the books published about the case.”
In his new book, O’Connor argues that Abu-Jamal was clearly framed by police, and that the actual shooter was a man named Kenneth Freeman. O’Connor criticizes the local media, who, he says “bought into the prosecution’s story line early on and has never been able to see this case for what it is: a framing of an innocent and peace loving man.”
In his review of the recent book “Murdered by Mumia,” O’Connor writes that “there’s a great deal to admire about Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner,” but concludes that her “obsessive hate for Abu-Jamal has blinded her to the prosecutorial misconduct and judicial bias that plagued his trial and justifiably fueled his rise to a world stage. The real villains in her life were the police and prosecutors who framed Abu-Jamal for Officer Faulkner’s killing. They are the ones, not the long drawn out appellate process that has kept Abu-Jamal alive, who have denied her the closure she was due more than twenty-five years ago.”
For more background on “The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal” and J. Patrick O’Connor, Abu-Jamal-News.com is featuring his response to the March 27 court ruling, an excerpt from the new book, a previous interview with the author, and O’Connor’s review of “Murdered By Mumia.” This new interview was conducted on April 11, 2008, and is featured in the newly released “Journalists for Mumia” newspaper.
Hans Bennett: Advocates of Abu-Jamal's conviction and execution always say that a police frame-up of Abu-Jamal is a lunatic, far-fetched "conspiracy theory" that should be dismissed by any sane observer. What do you mean when you say he was "framed"? How was this done?
J. Patrick O'Connor: Mumia's early association with the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party marked him as a subversive to George Fencl, the chief inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Civil Defense Bureau. His subsequent sympathetic coverage of MOVE while reporting for the local public radio station made him an avowed enemy of Mayor Frank Rizzo. Minutes after Officer Faulkner was shot at 3:55 a.m., Inspector Alfonzo Giordano – who reported directly to Fencl – took command of the crime scene and personally set in motion the framing of Abu-Jamal. It would be Giordano who claimed that Mumia told him in the paddy wagon that he dropped his gun after he shot Faulkner; it would be Giordano who arranged for prostitute Cynthia White and felon Robert Chobert to identify Abu-Jamal as the shooter. Giordano and White would be the D.A. Office’s only witnesses at the preliminary hearing to hold Abu-Jamal over for trial where Giordano repeated this “confession.”
Giordano is as corrupt a police officer as one can imagine. For years he had been extorting kickbacks – personally averaging $3,000 per month – from Center City prostitutes, pimps and bar owners, which explains his early arrival at the crime scene. He knew Cynthia White and her pimp. He coerced her at the scene to identify Abu-Jamal as the shooter. She would be the only witness the D.A. had to claim to see Abu-Jamal holding a gun over Faulkner. In her original statement to the police – given within an hour of the shooting – she had Abu-Jamal running from the parking lot and from as far away as 10-yards firing off “four or five shots” at Faulkner before the officer fell. In her third interview with police detectives, given on December 17, she fine-tuned her statement to comport with the actual evidence in the case that Faulkner was shot at close range. (In one of the most sinister aspects of Abu-Jamal’s case, the police department waited until the Monday after Abu-Jamal’s conviction to “relieve” Giordano of his duties on what would prove to be well-founded “suspicions of corruption.” Four years after Abu-Jamal’s trial, Giordano pled guilty to tax evasion in connection with those payouts and was sent to prison.)
Incredibly, the police arriving at the crime scene would later claim not to have conducted any tests to determine if Abu-Jamal had recently fired a gun by checking for powder residue on his hands or clothing, nor did they claim to even feel or smell his gun to determine if it had been recently fired. Tests such as these are so routine at murder scenes that it is almost inconceivable the police did not run them. It is more likely that they did not like the results of the tests.
From the outset, the investigation into the shooting death of Officer Faulkner was conducted with one goal in mind: to hang the crime on Mumia Abu-Jamal. There was no search for the truth, no attempt at providing the slain officer with the justice he deserved. Giordano handed Abu-Jamal to the D.A.’s Office with his own lie about Abu-Jamal confessing to him and packing off Cynthia White in a squad car to tell her concocted account of the shooting. When the D.A.’s Office was forced to back away from the corrupt Giordano, Assistant D.A. Joseph McGill elicited a new “confession” to replace Giordano’s in February when security guard Priscilla Durham and Officer Garry Bell, Faulkner’s best friend on the police force, responded to his promptings by saying they heard Abu-Jamal blurt out at the hospital, “I shot the mother-fucker and I hope the mother-fucker dies.” Not one of the dozens of other officers present at the hospital would make such a claim. In fact, the two officers who accompanied Abu-Jamal from the time he was placed in the paddy wagon until he went into surgery, reported that he made no comments in signed statements given to detectives assigned to the case that morning.
The prosecution knew that its new “confession” could be skewered if Abu-Jamal’s defense attorney, Anthony Jackson, called the two officers who accompanied Abu-Jamal to the stand, so all the prosecution really had was Cynthia White. With White saying she saw it all from beginning to end, and willing to testify that she saw Abu-Jamal blow the helpless Faulkner’s brains out in ruthless cold blood, McGill had his case made, providing White’s credibility could survive Jackson’s cross-examination. McGill bet the entire case that it could, and despite the utter web of lies she told the jury, was right.
Bennett: Why do you think that Kenneth Freeman was the actual shooter of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner?
O'Connor: Kenneth Freeman was Billy Cook’s street vendor partner and was riding with him in the VW when Faulkner pulled the VW over. Freeman got out of the VW and subsequently handed Faulkner a phony driver’s license application bearing the name of Arnold Howard, which Howard had recently loaned to him. Howard’s papers were found in Faulkner’s shirt pocket. Police rounded up both Howard and Freeman in the early morning hours of December 9 and brought them in for questioning. At the Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing in 1995, Howard testified that on several occasions, Cynthia White picked Freeman out of a lineup.
At Billy Cook’s March 29 trial for assaulting Officer Faulkner, with McGill as the prosecutor, White told McGill in direct testimony that the passenger in the VW “had got out.” McGill said, “He got of the car”? White responded, “Yes.” (At Abu-Jamal’s trial, McGill got White to testify that only Abu-Jamal, Cook, and Faulkner were at the scene.)
Various witnesses said they saw a black man running from the scene right after the shooting. Some of the eyewitnesses said this man had an Afro and wore a green army jacket. Freeman did have an Afro and he perpetually wore a green army jacket. Freeman was tall and burly, weighing about 225 pounds at the time.
Cab driver Robert Harkins was driving right by the parked police car and the VW when he saw a police officer grab a man. The man “then spun around and the officer went to the ground,” falling face down backwards, landing on his hands and knees. The assailant shot the officer in the back, causing him to roll over on his back, and then executed him with a shot to his forehead.
Harkins described the shooter as a little taller and heavier than the 6-foot, 200-pound Faulkner. Robert Chobert told police in his first statement that the shooter had an Afro and weighed about 225 pounds. (Abu-Jamal, also about 6-foot, wore in his hair in dreadlocks and weighed 170 pounds at the time.)
In Billy Cook’s April 29, 2001, affidavit he declared that Freeman was with him the night of the shooting, was armed, and fled the scene after Faulkner was shot. Cook said he did not see who shot Faulkner.
Freeman would meet an ignominious death hours after Philadelphia police firebombed the MOVE house on Osage Avenue in 1985, killing 11 MOVE members, including John Africa, whose corpse had been beheaded. Freeman’s dead body was found bound, gagged and naked in a vacant lot. There would be no police investigation into this obvious murder. The coroner listed his cause of death as a heart attack. The timing and modus operandi of the abduction and killing alone suggest an extreme act of police vengeance.
Bennett: In your book, you were very optimistic about the Third Circuit granting Abu-Jamal a new guilt-phase trial. Were you surprised by the March 27 ruling? If so, how do you account for such a surprising ruling?
O'Connor: I was incredulous. I thought the oral arguments on May 17 had gone extremely well for Abu-Jamal and that he would get a new trial. The 2-1 majority ruling demonstrated anew just how politicized this case always has been from the beginning and continues to be still. The two Republican-appointed judges on the panel formed the majority and the lone Democrat-appointed judge dissented. I hate to make it sound that simple, but the U.S. Supreme Court itself is not above making decisions based on party or ideological lines, and all too frequently does.
In its ruling, the majority stated it believed Abu-Jamal had “forfeited his Batson claim by failing to make a timely objection. But even assuming Abu-Jamal’s failure to object is not fatal to his claim, Abu-Jamal has failed to meet his burden in providing a prima facie case.” The majority stated that he failed because his attorneys at his PCRA evidentiary hearing neglected to elicit the prosecutor’s reasons for removing 10 otherwise qualified blacks by means of peremptory strikes during jury selection.
“Abu-Jamal had the opportunity to develop this evidence at the PCRA evidentiary hearing, but failed to do so. There may be instances where a prima facie case can be made without evidence of the strike rate and exclusion rate. But in this case, we cannot find the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling [denying Abu-Jamal’s Batson claim] unreasonable based on this incomplete record,” the majority wrote. In a nutshell, the majority denied Abu-Jamal’s Batson claim on a technicality of its own invention, not on its merits.
Judge Ambro’s dissent was sharp: “…I do not agree with them [the majority] that Mumia Abu-Jamal fails to meet the low bar for making a prima facie case under Batson. In holding otherwise, they raise the standard necessary to make out a prima facie case beyond what Batson calls for.”
In other words, the majority, in this case alone, has upped the ante required for making a Batson claim beyond what the United States Supreme Court stipulated. When ruling in Batson in 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed no timeliness restrictions as to when a Batson claim may be raised, nor has the court done so in the intervening 22 years. Neither did it require that the racial composition of the entire jury pool be known before a Batson claim could be raised. (In fact, the Supreme Court recently added heft to its Batson ruling, ruling in Synder that the purging of only one black juror on the basis of racial discrimination was grounds for a new trial.) In addition, the Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that to establish a prima facie case for a Batson claim, the defendant must show only “an inference” of prosecutorial discrimination in purging even one black from a jury. Even the Third Circuit has never previously allowed the timing of a Batson claim to be material, nor had it ever ruled previously that not knowing the racial composition of the entire jury pool was a fatal flaw in lodging a Batson claim.
The fact that the prosecutor in Abu-Jamal’s case used 10 of the 15 peremptory challenges to exclude blacks from the jury – a strike rate of 66 percent against potential black jurors – is in itself an inference of discrimination. The result was that only three of the 12 jurors impaneled were black.
The Third Circuit should have remanded the case back to Federal District Court Judge Yohn – the judge who ruled on Abu-Jamal’s habeas corpus petition in 2001 – to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the prosecutors’ reasons for excluding the 10 potential black jurors he struck. If that hearing revealed racial discrimination on the part of the prosecutor during jury selection, Judge Yohn would be compelled to order a new trial for Abu-Jamal.
Abu-Jamal is left with only two remedies to correct the flawed Third Circuit ruling. His first option is to request the Third Circuit to review its decision en banc where the entire panel of judges sitting on the Third Circuit would conduct oral arguments anew. There is some likelihood that the Third Circuit might agree to meet en banc because the panel’s decision to deny Abu-Jamal’s Batson claim went against that court’s own well-established precedents in granting similar Batson claims in the past. However, the barrier to en banc deliberations is a high one: a majority of the sitting judges must vote to reexamine the case. On the Third Circuit Court, there are 12 judges eligible to vote, but four have already recused themselves from this particular case, meaning five of the remaining eight judges would be needed to go forward en banc. Abu-Jamal has most probably had his one day before the Third Circuit.
Barring a reversal by the Third Circuit, Abu-Jamal’s final option is to appeal the Third Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has on three previous occasions denied to take up his case. This time, though, there is a remote possibility that the high court may take the case up because the Third Circuit’s ruling created new law by placing new restrictions on a defendant’s ability to file a Batson claim.
Bennett: With the media spotlight on the PA Primary Elections, and the major demonstrations supporting Abu-Jamal on April 19, what would you like the world to know about this famous death-row case? How far has the city of Philadelphia come since the days of Police Commissioner and Mayor Frank Rizzo, a notorious racist and public advocate of police brutality?
O'Connor: In a real sense, D.A. Lynn Abraham, just as Frank Rizzo before her, embodies the worst of Philadelphia. Known as “the Queen of Death” for her zeal in seeking the death penalty, she was depicted as the nation’s “deadliest D.A.” in a New York Times Magazine article in 1995. Her personal vendetta against Abu-Jamal equals that of Officer Faulkner’s widow. The day Federal District Court Judge Yohn overturned Abu-Jamal’s death sentence in 2001, Abraham put her antipathy for Abu-Jamal this way: “Today, Mumia Abu-Jamal is what he has always been: a convicted, remorseless, cold-blooded killer.”
The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal represents an enormous miscarriage of justice, representing an extreme example of prosecutorial abuse and judicial bias. What makes getting to the truth about this case so difficult for people, particularly people in Philadelphia, is that the prosecution built its case on perjured testimony with a calculated disregard for what the actual evidence established. The local media bought into the prosecution’s story line early on and has never been able to see this case for what it is: a framing of an innocent and peace loving man.
Two things account for the unprecedented national and international interest in this case. First and foremost is the man himself. Despite more than 25 years of the bleakest existence possible in isolation on death row, Mumia Abu-Jamal remains what he has always been: an articulate, compassionate righter of wrongs. The second thing that makes this case so compelling to such a wide audience is that his trial represents such a monumental abuse of government power to railroad one man that it really says no citizen is truly free until this wrong has been undone.
--Hans Bennett is a Philadelphia journalist and co-founder of Journalists for Mumia, whose website is Abu-Jamal-News.com.
All work by photojournalist Hans Bennett