Mumia Abu Jamal Wesley Cook was born in 1954. While he was protesting at a George Wallace for president rally in 1968, several white men attacked him. He claims that two men grabbed him.
One kicked his face and skull, while the other kicked him in the groin. As the beating progressed, “he looked up and saw the two-toned gold-trimmed pant leg of a Philadelphia police officer.” He yelled for the police, who saw him on the ground being beaten to a pulp. “A police officer marched over briskly, and kicked him in the face.”1 “I have been thankful to that faceless cop ever since, for he kicked me straight into the Black Panther Party.”2 Wesley Cook became a founding member of the Black Panther Partys Philadelphia chapter in 1969 at the age of 15. After joining mainstream news organizations in the 1970s, Wesley Cook changed his name to Mumia Abu-Jamal. As a teenage journalist, Jamal took an interest in stories about police brutality. Jamal was known to be a rare talent of radio journalism.
He had a powerful intellect and a burning empathy for poor people. He was known as a skillful interviewer and became a well-known figure in local broadcasting journalism. Jamal appeared on National Public Radio, the National Black Network, and local Philadelphia stations including WUHY-FM (now WHYY). He had a lot of admiring friends in journalism and politics, and had no prior record of crime or violence. Despite his personal experience of police brutality and years as a teenage Black Panther, he kept his noise clean even under the microscope of the FBI and Philadelphia police surveillance.
By the late 1970s, Jamal was also an ardent sympathizer and supporter of MOVE a black militant antiestablishment, antipolice group. He started wearing his hair in long dreadlocks like a MOVE member. By mid 1981, Jamals growing obsession with MOVE had compromised his standing as a journalist and cost him his job at WUHY. He started freelancing his writing skills, while moonlighting as a cabdriver.
He was robbed while on duty with his cab, so he started to carry a gun. 3 During this time, the Philadelphia Police Department was so notorious for violence and police brutality, that the United States Justice Department, in an unprecedented 1979 civil suit, charged then mayor (and former police commissioner) Frank Rizzo and the top police brass with “encouraging rampant police brutality, racism, and lying.” This suit was later dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.4 On December 9, 1981, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner was shot to death. On July 3, 1982 Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of Officer Faulkners murder and sentenced to death. Beyond these two facts, there are a number of versions of the incidents that lead to Mumia Abu-Jamals conviction. This paper will review the incidents of December 9, 1981 and show that Mumia Abu-Jamal was not provided a fair and impartial trial by his peers, and was wrongly convicted and sentenced for the death of Officer Faulkner.
What the Jury Heard: On December 9, 1981, at 3:51 a.m. Officer Faulkner stopped Mr. William Cook (Jamals brother), who was driving a Volkswagen Beetle for a traffic violation, on the south side of Locust Street about 80 feet east of 13th Street. The area at the time was known for its seediness. The area had many late-night bars, nightclubs, cafes, and streetwalkers. Officer Faulkner radioed his location and then added: “On second thought, send me a wagon.”5 He was apparently planning to arrest Mr.
Cook or someone in Mr. Cooks car for an unknown reason. According to two prosecution witnesses, both Faulkner and Cook got out of their cars. Faulkner spread-eagled Mr. Cook across one of the cars and then suddenly turned and slugged Officer Faulkner.
Faulkner responded by clubbing Cook several times with his 17-inch flashlight. Mr. Cooks face and neck were bloody when police arrived. By coincidence, Mumia Abu-Jamal was parked in his cab and came out of a parking lot on the northeast corner of Locust and 13th.
He accelerated from a walk to a run as he charged toward Officer Faulkner across Locust Street. It was never fully disclosed at the trial, why Jamals cab was parked nearby. He just happened to be around. In any event, this is when the point blank shooting started to occur.
According to the prosecutions theory, Jamal ran up behind Officer Faulkner to within one foot, and shot him in the back. The wounded Faulkner turned around and returned fire, hitting Jamal in the chest, and falling onto his back. Jamal then emptied his gun into Officer Faulkner at close range, finishing him off with a shot between his eyes.6 Less than one-minute later, police arrived at the scene. The wounded Jamal was sitting on a curb four feet from Faulkner, with his empty shoulder holster on and his empty gun nearby. Cook was standing a few feet away against a wall, with what two witnesses called, “a look of shock” on his face.7 He allegedly told police that he had nothing to do with the shooting and was only prosecuted for hitting Office Faulkner. On the surface, the prosecution presented a clean theory.
The prosecution’s case pointed to a clear legal conclusion that Jamal had committed first-degree murder of a police officer with a maximum sentence of death. However, as one examines Mumia Abu-Jamal supposed confession, the public defenders lack of experience in capital murder cases, the changing testimony of the three eye witnesses, the physical evidence procured at the scene, and discrepancies between the officers at the scene, the clean prosecution theory starts to unravel. The Philadelphia police department themselves could of gone a long way to proving Jamals guilt. For example, there was no definitive match between Jamals gun and the bullet that killed Officer Faulkner. The police could have tested Jamals hands to determine if he had recently fired a gun.
The officers on the scene, could of smelled the gun barrel to determine if it had been recently fired.8 The Philadelphia police failed to go the extra mile in examining the evidence and in doing so failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jamal was guilty and deserved to be sentenced to death. The Confession: Priscilla Durham, a hospital security guard and Officer Gary Bell (Faulkners former partner and best friend) both swore that they heard Jamal, as he was lying on the floor of the hospital emergency room defiantly shout: “I shot the mother*censored*er, and I hope the mother*censored*er dies.”9 Jamal contends this confession was fabricated. The “confession” was allegedly shouted in the emergency room while he was being detained by fifteen or so Philadelphia police officers. In fact, none of the officers present mentioned Jamals”confession” in their police reports or interviews over the next few months. Not a word of the “confession” found its way into any police report for more than two months.10 Furthermore, it is very peculiar that an intelligent man whose livelihood depended on articulate communication would spontaneously and flamboyantly incriminates himself. Priscilla Durham first mentioned Jamals”confession” to police investigators in a February 9, 1982 interview, 62 days after the shooting.
She claimed that she mentioned the “confession” to hospital investigators the day after the murder, which was, written down by hand. Prosecutor McGill seemingly surprised, claimed to have never seen the report. While Ms. Durham was on the witness stand during the trial, an unsigned, unauthenticated, typewritten piece of paper dated December 10, 1981 was read to the jury and admitted as evidence against Jamal. 11 Officer Gary Bell made no mention of Jamals “confession” in his reports after the shooting. It was not until 78 days later that Officer Bell remembered the confession.
Officer Bell explained that he was so devastated by seeing Officer Faulkner with his face almost blown off that he did not remember the confession. 12 Due to the ineffectiveness of Jamals defense lawyer and the bias of Judge Sabo (the presiding judge) the jury never heard any exculpatory evidence. Officer Gary Wakshul, who was in the paddy wagon that took Jamal from the scene to Jefferson Hospital, reported later that morning that “we stayed with the male at Jefferson until we were relieved. During this time, the Negro male made no comments.”13 Did Officer Wakshul not hear the confession, or did he step away for a minute and miss it? While interviewing Officer Wakshul on charges of police brutality by Jamal, Officer Wakshul issued a new statement, 64 days after the murder (February 11, 1982). Officer Wakshul now claimed to hear the entire confession loud and clear. When asked by the interviewer to explain his initial report, Officer Wakshul said that ” the statement disgusted me, and I did not realize it had any importance until today.”14 Judge Albert Sabo Jamals defense team and supporters claim that Judge Sabo has sentenced more people to death than any other judge in the United States.
Therefore, the judge was biased against Jamal from the start, due to the nature of the alledged crime. However, the defense team seeking a re trail, fail to mention the frequent disruptive nature of Mr. Jamal during his trial. The truth is that Judge Sabo has been a sitting judge since 1974. During his tenure, he has almost exclusively presided over capital murder cases.
Therefore, if Judge Sabo has presided over more capital punishment trials than any other sitting judge in the United States, it would be due to his tenure as a judge not his bias. The fact that more death penalties have been issued from Judge Sabos court is not a function of Judge Sabo but of the individual juries in the case. 15 Under the system of justice used in Pennsylvania, the judge does not sentence the defendant to death. A jury of 12 citizens hear the evidence against the accused and then must decide unanimously to impose the death sentence.
In this case, Judge Sabo did not sentence Jamal to death, the racially mixed group of 12 jurors, which Jamal assisted in selecting did. This decision was later upheald by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on direct appeal.16 The court transcripts and appeal court decisions uphold the fact that Judge Sabo was eminently fair and patient with Jamal during his trial. He frequently was disruptive during the trial which resulted in many delays. One can only imagine how the actions of Jamal during his trial adversly influenced the jury as they sat sequestered in a hotel for six weeks. Judge Sabo defends himself by stating, “In the old days we lawyers had a saying: If you have the evidence on your side, argue the evidence. If you have the law on your side, argue the law.
And if you have neither the evidence or the law on your side, scream like hell. Now the news media has changed that to read: If you dont have the evidence or the law on your side: blame the judge. Who else are you going to blame it on?” 17 The Jury: Jamals supporters and defense team have claimed during the appeal process that the jury was racially stacked against the defendant, violating his civil rights. During the 1982 trail, Judge Sabo encouraged the defense to note the race of each prospective juror so it could become part of the public record.
Unfortunatly, the defense failed to do so. Therefore there is no record to confirm or support how many prospective jurors for the 1982 trail were black and of that number, how many of the prosecutions fifteen preemptory challenges to excuse jurors were used against eligible black jurors. This is unfortunate since during this part of the trial, Mr. Jamal was acting as his own attorney during the selection process.
Having demanded to represent himself, Jamal assumed the responsibility of asking prospective juror what their race was and noting it in the writing of the record. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has reviewed the evidence and ruled that Jamals civil rights were upheld. The facts clearly show that at the beginning of the trial, 3 or the 12 jurors seated were black. When one of the black jurors, Ms. Jenny Dawley, violated sequestration to attend to a sick cat, the defense as well as the prosecution agreed to her removal.
The defense claims that the judge provided a white juror special arrangements who needed to take a civil service exam, and was not as flexible for the Ms. Dawley. The facts clearly indicate that the white juror had asked the judges permission prior to taking the test. Ms. Dawley did not communicate with the judge or any court officers regarding her cat.
Ms. Dawley while under sequesture at the hotel , simply chose to go and take care of her cat. She was told by the court that she could not just leave, and responded per the public record, “I dont care what Judge Sabo or anybody says, I do what I have to do, nobody is going to stop me.” Ms Dawley chose to violate her sequestration without asking the judge to accommodate her personal needs. The record also shows that both the defense and prosecution agreed to her dismissal. In short, the 1982 jury that Mr. Jamal helped select was properly selected and seated.
The racial mix of the jury was almost identical to that of Philadelphia at the time. The prosecution had four (4) preemptory challenges left when the jury was finally seated. If the prosecution had desired, they could of used these remaining challenges to exclude the three black jurors that were seated. The court transcripts verify that each of the jurors dismissed by the prosecution were dismissed for valid non-racial reasons. 18 The Witnesses Both the defense and prosecution have a litany of witnesses.
Over the years, many of these witnesses have changed their stories. A few of the witnesses have filed sworn affidavits that the police coerced them into making false statements to support the prosecutions claims. The defense witnesses contend that a third person was present during the routene traffic stop by Officer Faulkner. This third person was responsible for shooting Officer Faulkner and then fled on foot. This “running man” theory is the only theory ever presented on the record that purports to show Mr. Jamals innocence.
19 This section will try to identify all key witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense and analyize their statements individually. The defense claims that Veronica Jones is a key eye witness to overturning the murder conviction. The night of the murder, Ms. Jones was a prostitute working the neighborhood around 13th and Locust.
Ms. Jones originally told the police that she had witnessed two men run from the scene in which Officer Faulkner was …