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 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.

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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. 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.

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.

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

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

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

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?

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 Carter. As a result of her testimony, Officer Ryan is now in jail and Raymond Carter is a free ma

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Mumia Abu Jamal. (2018, Jun 09). Retrieved from