Mumia Abu Jamal Essay

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 Party’s
Philadelphia chapter in 1969 at the age of 15. After joining mainstream news
organizations in the 1970’s, 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 1970’s, 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, Jamal’s growing obsession with
MOVE had compromised his standing as a journalist and cost him his job at WUHY.

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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 Faulkner’s murder and
sentenced to death. Beyond these two facts, there are a number of versions of
the incidents that lead to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s 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 (Jamal’s
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. Cook’s 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. Cook’s 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 Jamal’s 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 prosecution’s 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 Jamal’s guilt. For example, there was no definitive match
between Jamal’s gun and the bullet that killed Officer Faulkner. The police
could have tested Jamal’s 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 (Faulkner’s
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 Jamal’s”confession” in their police reports or interviews over the next few months.

Not a word of the “confession” found it’s 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 Jamal’s”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 Jamal’s “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 Jamal’s 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 Jamal’s
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 Sabo’s 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 don’t have the evidence or the law on your side: blame the
judge. Who else are you going to blame it on?” 17 The Jury: Jamal’s
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 Jamal’s 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 don’t 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 prosecution’s 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. Jamal’s
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
shot, but changed her story after receiving threats and promises from two
Philadelphia detectives. Ms. Jones was a mother of two at the time and was
facing felony charges of welfare fraud and was later convicted of these felony
charges. However Ms. Jones testified in 1982 that she did not see the actual
shooting. She stated that she was working the street around the cornor and did
not look across the street until after the shooting stopped. When she looked
around the cornor, she saw “two men kinda jogging away” from the crime
scene. Ms. Jones has never testified that these two men were involved in the
crime in any way.21 Today, Ms Jones claims in a sworn affidavit that she gave
false testimony under oath against Jamal. She claims that at the time of the
trial, she was coerced by the police to lye. In her statement, Ms. Jones states
that approximatly one week before the trial she was visited by two white plain
clothed detectives. The detectives began by discussing Mr. Jamal rather than the
facts of the case. They told her that if she testified at the trial and
identified Jamal as the shooter, she would not have to worry about her upcoming
pending felony charges. She claims to of told the detectives at the time that
she did not see the shooting, but only heard the shots. The detectives were not
satified with this response and reminded Ms. Jones that she faced a long prison
sentence if convicted. She felt at the time that if she did not testify against
Mr. Jamal, she would never see her children again and spend many years in
prison. Ms. Jones also claims in her sworn statement that during the trial both
detectives were in plain view, standing at the rear of the courtroom. Debra
Kordansky is another defense eyewitness that was in the bedroom of her apartment
down the street from the crime scene. She heard all five shots but thought they
were firecrackers so she did not look out her window until the police arrived on
the scene. She saw ten squad cars and two vans and a man running on the South
side of Locust Street. 22 Mr. Desie Hightower testified in 1982 that he was down
the street from the shooting, behind a building in a parking lot, getting into a
car with his friend. Like Ms. Kordansky, Mr. Hightower initially thought the
shooting was a kid lighting firecrackers. Mr. Hightower testified that he “did
not have a direct line of vision to the crime scene because he had sought cover
behind a wall when the shooting started and then remained there until the
shooting stopped. Having waited until quite some time after the shooting stoped
before looking around the corner towards the crime scene, he stated that he saw
somebody running from the general area of the shooting.” Mr. Hightower has
never testified or stated that the person he saw running from the scene was the
shooter or involved in the crime in any way. It should be noted that Mr.

Hightower’s 1982 description of the person he saw running after the police
arrived was an exact composite of Mr. Jamal the morning of the shooting and Mr.

Hightower had no explanation for this fact. Furthermore, Mr. Hightower was given
a polygraph test on his testimony and passed. William Singletary was a secondary
eyewitness for the defense. He not only was present at the crime scene the night
of the murder, he had a long discussion with one of the presiding officers.

However, he did not testify in the original trial but was called by Judge Sabo
during the 1995 appeal of the decision. Later in 1996, Mr. Singletary was called
the key witness in the 1996 HBO documentary on the Jamal trail. He stated that
he saw two shooters. The first shot Officer Faulkner in the back and then
escaped down the street. The second gunman stepped out of the car Officer
Faulkner pulled over (Jamal’s brother), shot the wounded officer in the face,
threw the gun away, and ran away. Then according to Singletary, as Mr. Jamal
approached Officer Faulker to offer assistance, Officer Faulkner raised his hand
and shot Mr. Jamal in the chest. Mr. Singletary went on to say that he
personally approached Officer Faulkner and heard him say “Get Maureen, get the
children.” Maureen is in fact Officer Faulkner’s wifes first name, however
they never had any children. Mr. Singletary’s testimony does raise some
interesting questions. Both the prosecution and defense medical experts both
agreed that Officer Faulkner died immediately from his head wound. Did Mr.

Singletary actually speak to Officer Faulker? How did Mr. Cook’s mystery
passenger get posession of Mr. Jamal’s gun, out of its holster, and shoot
Officer Faulkner in the head? How was Officer Faulkner shot in the back? . Was
there a second man (mystery man) in Mr. Cook’s car? If there was a second man
in Mr. Cook’s (Jamal’s brother) car, why hasn’t Mr. Cook come forward? Mr.

Cook has stated for the record many times that he had nothing to do with the
murder of Officer Faulkner and has refused to testify during the trial. Mr.

Singletary also swears that he was admitted in the Philadelphia Police
Headquarters (Roundhouse) at 4am on the morning of the shooting and released at
9am. During this time he was interogated and threatened by a black Philadlephia
police detective. Mr. Singletary claims he provided a handwritten version of the
mornings events, and once it was reviewed by the detective it was balled up and
thrown away. Finally frustrated, the interviewing detective typed up his own
version of the events that morning and demanded that Mr. Singletary sign the
typed document. Fearing for his safety, Mr. Singletary claims he unwillingly
signed the typed police version of the morning’s events. Mr. Singletary also
claims that the police treatened him at his place of business, windows of his
gas station were routinely broken by police, and that his tow trucks were cited
for numerous violations. He claimed in the HBO documentary that the alleged
intimidation became so oppressive that he was forced to abandon his business in
Philadelphia and leave town, moving to South Carolina. There are many
inconsistancies with Mr. Singletary’s statement. Log books at the Philadelphia
Police Headquarters indicate that Mr. Singletary signed himself in and out of
the roundhouse. He was not questioned by a black detective as he claims, the
records show Mr. Singletary was interogated by a white detective with less than
eight months experience. It is impossible to prove or disprove weather or not he
was threatened by a detective with less than eight months experience. Both the
prosecution and defense agree that Robert Chobert was an actual eyewitness to
the shooting and one of the closest individuals to the crime. When he was 18
yeas old, Mr. Chobet was paid to throw a molotov cocktail into an empty school
building. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was placed on probation. The
night of Officer Faulkner’s murder, Mr. Chobert was parked in the taxi he was
driving 30 feet behind Officer Faulkner’s police car. He swore in the 1982
trail and 1995 appeal that he saw Mr. Jamal shoot Officer Faulkner and did not
take his eyes off of Jamal until he was arrested and placed in the police van.

The defense claims that Mr. Chobert was driving his taxi without a valid drivers
license and that the Assistant DA Mr. McGill had an agreement with Mr. Chobert
that he would arrange to get his license back in return for favorable testimony.

Mr. Chobert confirmed during his 1996 testimony that back in 1982, he did ask
the DA on how he could get his license back. Thirteen years after the shooting
and testimony of Mr. Chobert, he still does not have his drivers license back
due to his limited source of funds, but has been allowed to continue driving a
taxi cab. Four individuals, Michael Scanlon, Cynthia White, Robert Harkins, and
Albert Magelton all provided testimony for the prosecution. All four witnesses
were unquestionably present during the shooting, eyewitnesses to the murder, and
have been deemed credible by the court. “Michael Scanlon was visiting
Philadelphia from out of state and was sitting in his car at the intersection of
13th and Locust and witnessed the entire murder, beginning to end.” Mr.

Scanlon testified extensively at the 1982 trail and confirmed that William Cook
attacked Officer Faulkner. He went on to testify that the officer reacted to Mr.

Cook’s attack trying to subdue Mr. Cook. As this was going on, another man
came running out from the parking lot across the street towards the officer and
Mr. Cook in front of the police car. Mr. Scanlon saw Jamal’s hand raise and
heard a gunshot. Then the officer fell down on the sidewalk and Mr. Jamal walked
over and shot the officer two additional times at point blank range. Another
prostitute working Locust street that night was Cynthia White. Ms. White
testified that she was across the street in the parking lot when “I noticed
Mr. Jamal running out of the lot and practically on the curb when he shot two
times at Officer Faulkner in the back. The officer turned around and staggered
and seened like he was grabbing for something but fell. Then Jamal came on top
of the officer and shot him some more.” After it was all over, Jamal slouched
down and sat on the curb. Credible Eyewitness Albert Magelton was a pedestrian
walking across the intersection of 13th and Locust approximatley twenty yards
from the shooting. While testifying in 1982 to what he had witnessed Mr.

Magelton stated, “I noticed the gentleman (Jamal) coming from the parking lot.

He was moving across the street towards where the officer had stopped the
Volkswagen. I heard shots and I did not see the Officer any more. I proceeded
back across the street to see what happened to the Officer. And then, as I was
moving across the street, I looked to where I heard the shots. When I got to the
pavement, I looked down and saw the Officer lying there. I did not see the other
gentleman (Jamal) until I moved up closer and saw him sitting on the curb.”
Under oath in 1982, when asked by Assistant D.A. Joe McGil what the police did
with the man who was sitting on the curb next to the dead Officer. Mr. Magelton
responded that they handcuffed Jamal and put him in the wagon. One of the
officers on the scene then took Mr. Magelton over to the wagon and asked him if
this was the gentleman that he had seen coming across the street. Mr. Magelton
confirmed his story under oath and there is no evidense that the defense of Mr.

Jamal has ever challenged his testimony. Mr Robert Harkins was another cab
driver placed immediately across the street from the crime scene. Like Mr.

Chobert, Mr. Harkins was very close to the actual shooting and witnessed the
entire crime. Mr. Harkins gave a statement to the officers on the scene
confirming the prosecutions theory. In his statement from 1981, Mr Harkins said
that, ” I looked over and observed a police officer grab a guy, the guy spun
around and the officer went to the ground. He had his hands on the ground and
then rolled over at this point and the male who was standing over the officer
pointed a gun at the officer and fired one shot and then he fired a second shot.

At this time the officer moved a little and then went flat to the ground. I
heard a total of three shots and saw what appeared to be three flashes from the
gun of the man standing over the officer.” Despite this fact, Mr. Harkins is
in the unique position of having neither the defense nor prosecution call him to
testify at the 1982 trial. However, Mr. Harkins was asked by the defense to
testify at the 1995 appeal trial. Mr. Harkins stated under oath during the 1995
trial that he had been repeatedly harassed by Mr. Jamal’s investigators
between 1990 and July of 1995. He went on to say, that “there were many people
that came around, many different people that would go to my place of work, and
then call me at my home. Each time Mr. Harkins refused to talk to the defense
team.” Finally after thirteen years of keeping his silence, Mr. Harkins
finally sucummed to the defense’s pressure and agreed to give a statement to
one of Mr. Jamal’s investigators. After he gave his statement the defense team
continued to contact him. Under oath in the 1995 trial, Mr. Harkins explained
that ” each time I would say something to the defense, they would come back
with something different than what I said. I don’t like that.” Regarding the
witnesses of this trial, it is clear that four prosecution witnesses: Scanlon,
White, Chobert, and Magelton, all gave virtually the exact same testimony.

Furthermore, the man that defense witness Harkins describes as having shot
Officer Faulkner and then sat down on the curb, who was later apprehended by
police was Munia Abu-Jamal. Witness credability is a major factor in this case.

There are four eyewitnesses for the defense that claim there was a third person
at the scene of the crime or a passenger in the Volkswagen? Pamela Jenkins
Cynthia White was a key witness for the prosecution, due to the fact that she
was the only witness who testified to seeing Jamal with a gun in his hands. No
other witness claims to have seen Jamal with a gun. It should also be noted
Cynthia White has disappeared and can not be found by the defense. No other
witness the morning of the shooting can recall seeing her that morning. It seems
that only the prosecution and the Philadelphia police now of Cynthia Whites
exact whereabouts. Following Jamal’s conviction, Ms. White continued to work
the streets under police protection. She was arrested many times after the trial
and all charges were dismissed, or a plea bargain was worked out. Pamela Jenkins
recently came forward for the defense. Apparently, Ms. Jenkins was working as a
prostitute that night and knew Cynthia White very well. Ms. Jenkins also knew a
number of Philadelphia police officrs at the time and was dating Officer Thomas
Ryan. Ms. Jenkins has provided a sworn statement that Officer Ryan asked her to
testify against Jamal and to falsely identify Mumia as the shooter, in spite of
the fact she wasn’t even present during the shooting. Her statement went on to
say that Officer Ryan paid her $150 to help Ms. White and that the police put
pressure on Ms. White to lie at the Mumia trial. Is Ms. Jenkins testimony and
statement credible after all these years? It appears the government has used Ms.

Jenkins as a star witness in a police corruption case in Philadelphia. At that
trial, Ms. Jenkins revealed how the Philadelphia police used her to provide
fraudulent evidence to obtain a murder conviction against Raymond Carter. Ms.

Jenkins testified that Officer Thomas Ryan paid her $500 to testify against


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