Officials still debate Abu-Jamal conviction

Campus Times
April 30, 1999


by Michael Anklin
Staff Writer

To some Mumia Abu-Jamal is a cop killer. To many others in the United States and around the world, he is an innocent man on death row.

On Dec. 9, 1981, Abu-Jamal, an African-American radio journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party, was working as a cab driver in Philadelphia.

At about 4 a.m., he was driving down Locust Street when he claims he saw his brother, William Cook, who had been stopped by police officer Daniel Faulkner for a traffic violation. What happened next is still debated.

The prosecution in the trial that followed claimed Abu-Jamal exited his car, ran toward Faulkner and shot him once in the back. Faulkner managed to turn around, fired at his attacker and then collapsed.

Before Abu-Jamal fell to the ground, he supposedly shot Faulkner again, this time in the head. Two witnesses identified Abu-Jamal as the shooter.

When other police officers arrived at the scene, Abu-Jamal was sitting on the curb, suffering from a chest wound inflicted by Faulkner. Police found Abu-Jamal's lawfully registered .38-caliber revolver nearby. Five bullets had been fired.

On July 2, 1982, Abu-Jamal was found guilty of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. He has appealed the verdict, but without success.

While on death row, Abu-Jamal wrote two books, "Live from Death Row" and "Death Blossoms."

In the early '90s Abu-Jamal took as his lawyer civil rights attorney Leonard Weinglass. Weinglass and his team challenged many aspects of the prosecution's case in a 300-page brief. Many celebrities and people around the world began supporting Abu-Jamal.

In a post-conviction appeal hearing in 1995, Abu-Jamal's defense team presented the case's evidence in a new light and tried once again to show what Abu-Jamal's supporters have been saying for years: He received an unfair trial and deserved at least a re-trial, if not to be released from death row. Many believe a new trial could prove his innocence.

One questioned part of the evidence concerns the bullet. It is not clear whether the bullets found in Faulkner were actually .38-caliber bullets. Some claim they were .44-caliber.

However, experts say .38-caliber bullets could easily be mistaken for a larger caliber after having been fired and having exploded in a person's head.

Because of these contradictions, Abu-Jamal's lawyers have doubts as to whether or not the bullets in question were fired from Abu-Jamal's gun.

The defense further claims that the two witnesses who identified Abu-Jamal -- one of whom was a prostitute -- had both been in trouble with the law before and may have been persuaded to lie. The prostitute admitted that she was intoxicated on the night of the murder.

Faulkner's partner, Gary Bell, claimed Abu-Jamal admitted to the murder in the emergency room of the hospital where he was treated for his wounds.

Another officer, Gary Wakshul, who accompanied Abu-Jamal, did not mention anything about a confession in his report.

When Wakshul was to testify, it was said that he was "on vacation." Judge Albert F. Sabo, a life-time member of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), accepted the explanation.

Three defense witnesses said they saw a man running from the scene. Yet Abu-Jamal was found wounded at the scene. The defense claims evidence was suppressed, and witnesses were forced to sign incorrect statements.

Abu-Jamal's attorneys say he did not receive enough money to hire the necessary experts to accurately defend his case.

It is said that he was not allowed to represent himself and was not granted the request to allow John Africa, leader of "MOVE," of which Abu-Jamal is a member, to represent him.

The defense team also pointed out that the jury consisted of 10 white people and only two African Americans.

Abu-Jamal's lawyers said that the court paid too much attention to the fact that he was a member of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, which they said had nothing to do with the case at hand.

Faulkner's widow, Maureen, and the slain police officer's family and friends say the defense team's claims are based on myths.

In 1995, Maureen told the Philadelphia Daily News, "I have been sitting in court eight hours a day for six days now, and to this day, I have not seen or heard any evidence that changes the facts of this case."

In a February 1999 article for The Source magazine, Abu-Jamal wrote, "Imagine a case in which a person isn't allowed to represent himself, one in which, witnesses are threatened or even arrested on the stand.

"Imagine that this case's appeal is heard and denied by a court where five out of seven of the judges have either received campaign contributions or campaign endorsements from the FOP," he wrote.

"Imagine a case in which a 'confession' was manufactured. I don't have to imagine such a case. It's mine."

One of the questions that remain is why Abu-Jamal's brother never testified. His first defense attorney says it was the defendant's decision not to call his brother.

Abu-Jamal's last appeal for a new trial was denied by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court last year. Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Ridge is willing to sign a death warrant for Abu-Jamal's execution.

As the debate rages on, both sides are represented with numerous sites on the Internet. Information in support of Abu-Jamal can be found under Opinions in favor of his execution can be found at

Last Saturday, protesters in San Francisco and Philadelphia demanded a re-trial for Abu-Jamal.

Also, to demonstrate their support for Abu-Jamal, 20 people from the University of La Verne participated in a walk out last Friday.