CLR INTERVIEW: In 1981, a Philadelphia police officer named Daniel Faulkner was murdered during a late night traffic stop. The conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal for his murder has become an international controversy that lays bare the contentious issues of race, judicial fairness and the death penalty. Mumia currently sits on Pennsylvania’s death row continuing to appeal his conviction. Maureen Faulkner, Daniel’s widow, has co-authored with Michael Smerconish, Murdered by Mumia, a book that gives her view of the murder, trial and appeals process. Below is her interview with the California Literary Review.
- Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice
- The Lyons Press, 368 pp.
Based on all of the court testimony that has accumulated over the years, what exactly happened on December 9th, 1981, the night of your husband’s murder?
On December 9, 1981, Danny was working the graveyard shift in Center City. Due to a set of circumstances he was alone in his car that morning and his partner, Gary Bell, was on foot. Danny observed a light blue Volkswagen driving the wrong way down 13th Street. He pulled the car over and called for “a wagon” before he exited his patrol car. The driver of the Volkswagen, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s younger brother William Cook, exited his car. Danny and Cook were talking and while Danny wasn’t looking Cook punched him in the face. Danny hit Cook over his shoulder with his flashlight and had him spread out over the hood of his patrol car when witnesses saw another man run from the parking lot across the street towards Cook and Danny. The man lifted his arm in “a shooting fashion” and fired a single shot in Danny’s back. Danny was able to turn and fire one return shot at Abu-Jamal that hit him in the abdomen. Danny then fell between the two cars onto the sidewalk. He lost his gun and was wounded. Mumia Abu-Jamal approached him as he lay unarmed and wounded on the ground and pointed his 5 shot Charter Arms revolver at Danny. He fired three more shots at him; two pierced his jacket but did not hit him. Jamal then moved closer, bent down and placed his gun to within 6 inches of Danny’s face. He fired his final shot into Danny’s forehead and the bullet came to rest in his brain. The Medical Examiner explained that he died instantly.
Abu-Jamal then attempted to flee the scene, but he fell to the ground; likely because of his wound. The first police car arrived at the scene within 70 seconds of the first shot being fired. They apprehended Mumia Abu Jamal at the scene. He had an empty shoulder holster on and a .38 Caliber Charter Arms revolver that was registered in his name lying at his side. The gun had 5 spent shells in it and each was a unique high velocity +P variety. This is the same type of ammunition that was removed from Danny’s head.
There were 5 people who actually saw all or most of the shooting (Scanlan, White, Chobert, Magilton and Harkins). Each eyewitness was less than 60 feet from the shooting and each gave a written and signed statement to different police officers in different locations that morning, most within an hour of the shooting. At the 1982 trial the prosecution called Scanlan, White, Chobert and Magilton to testify. Subsequently, Jamal’s attorneys alleged that there were several additional “eyewitnesses” who saw the real killer run from the scene, including Desie Hightower, Robert Pigford, Veronica Jones, Robert Harkins, Debra Kordanski and William Singletary. Each of these alleged eyewitnesses was called to testify at the 1995 and 1996 PCRA hearings and each either stated that they had not actually seen the shooting, but looked on the scene long after the shooting stopped, or they were found not to have testified credibly by the appellate courts. The only exception was Robert Harkins, who while testifying FOR the defense at the 1995 PCRA said the killer shot Danny and fell to the pavement. This is exactly what the prosecution’s eyewitnesses said. Much to the horror of Jamal’s attorneys Harkins testified that the killer fell to the ground in the spot where Jamal was apprehended.
Mumia’s supporters seem to focus on four problems with his conviction. I’d like to go through those with you. The first is that no ballistics tests were performed on the bullets that killed your husband. As the actor Ed Asner said, “The fact that no ballistics tests were done, which is pretty stupid.” Also the caliber of bullet used did not match Mumia’s gun.
Complete rubbish and pretty telling about Mike Farrell and Ed Ansner’s ability to actually know what they are talking about. In fact, numerous ballistics tests were done on the fatal bullet, Danny’s jacket, Jamal’s sweater, Jamal’s gun and on the bullet that was removed from Jamal. All anyone who really wants to know the actual facts has to do is go to our website (danielfaulkner.com) where we have posted and broken down every word of testimony over the past 26 years. All you need to do is click on the testimony of Anthony Paul (the prosecution’s ballistic expert), George Fassnacht (Jamal’s ballistics expert) and Charles Tomosa (the medical examiner) and you will see days of testimony about the ballistics tests that were run.
The next claim is that Mumia had an unprepared, incompetent attorney representing him at his initial trial.
While Jamal’s supporters don’t like to acknowledge it, Anthony Jackson was referred to Jamal by his friends at the Association of Black Journalists. Jackson wasn’t some loser attorney who was thrust on Jamal. Jackson testified to the fact that he went to the hospital and met with Jamal and that Jamal personally selected him to be his attorney. Jackson was highly competent and experienced. He had worked for the DA’s office and as a private investigator before becoming a lawyer. Because Jamal was broke, Jackson approached Judge Sabo and asked if the state would pay his fees for Jamal. Sabo agreed and allotted over $14,000 (in 1981 dollars) to pay Jackson for his work and for investigative costs. Jackson admitted at the 1995 PCRA hearing that he had handled at least 20 first degree murder cases before taking on Jamal’s case and that he had only lost 6 of those cases. This is an extremely good record as most people accused of murder ultimately are found guilty. Jackson said he was always prepared for trial. He stated that he had read each of the dozens of witness statements many times and that he had studied the results of all ballistics tests multiple times. He also admitted that he met on several occasions with Jamal’s ballistics expert to get a better understanding of the reports.
Jackson said that he was constantly hampered by Jamal’s incessant demands to represent himself, his demands to be represented by John Africa and his outbursts and verbal attacks on the judge, the prosecutor, the US legal system and Jackson himself. All of these things were done by Jamal in front of the jury. All of this information can also be found at our website. It’s easy to use. You click on Anthony Jackson and you go right to his testimony.
The third bone of contention is that a policeman remembered Mumia’s hospital confession a full two months after the murder.
Gary Bell and Gary Wakshul did report Abu-Jamal’s outburst of, “I shot the mother fucker and I hope the mother fucker dies.” two months after the event. They explained that they were so shaken by seeing their partner and fellow officer die that they didn’t realize the importance of what they had heard. However, Priscilla Durham, a hospital security guard with no axe to grind with Jamal, reported the outburst to her supervisor that morning. She testified to this at both the 1982 trial and at the 1995 PCRA hearing. A copy of the report was produced at trial in 1982 and she confirmed that the report stated exactly what she had heard.
Finally, Mumia was a successful journalist in Philadelphia who was espousing radical political views and the courts and police conspired to silence him by framing him for murder.
Abu-Jamal was a low level freelance “journalist” at one point in his life. He also worked for one of the local radio stations for a while, but he was fired about a year before he shot Danny. The truth is that by December 9, 1981 Mumia Abu-Jamal was completely out of journalism. When he murdered my husband he was driving a cab for a living and packing a gun loaded with devastating high velocity bullets. Additionally, there is absolutely no evidence that Jamal ever reported on police abuse in Philadelphia (and there was abuse at that time). Those reporters who did report on police abuse said, “He was a nobody.”
William Marimow was part of a team of reporters that reported on police brutality for The Philadelphia Inquirer and received the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1978. Marimow told Buzz Bissinger, also a Pulitzer Prize recipient, that he has no recollection of Abu-Jamal ever doing anything on the subject of police brutality in Philadelphia. What Marimow said was, “I was very attuned to everyone who wrote about Philadelphia police violence. This guy didn’t register a blip on my radar screen. It’s a shame what they have made him out to be.”
Mumia and his brother are the two who obviously know the most about what transpired the night of your husband’s murder. What is their version of what happened?
I feel that what William Cook didn’t say is more telling that what he did say. His brother may be executed, he’s being accused of a murder he didn’t commit and William Cook, who was standing right next to my husband when he was murdered, has never given any explanation about what REALLY happened beyond saying, “I ain’t got nothing to do with this.” to the first police on the scene.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has never offered any explanation of what happened the morning my husband was murdered before his eyes. It’s a rule that if you meet with Jamal you are forbidden to discuss Danny’s murder. It’s a farce and I can’t see how anyone with an ounce of honesty and decency would support him and argue for his release if he and his brother refuse to do so for themselves.
Colleges have had Mumia Abu-Jamal as their commencement speaker; Paris, France made him an honorary citizen; and the rock group Rage Against the Machine held a huge concert-fundraiser for him. What is your emotional reaction to events like these?
It angers me greatly.
What is the current legal status of this case?
His case is currently being considered by the US 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals process can go on forever if you have sympathetic judges. The 3rd Circuit can deny his 3 remaining issues in which case he will appeal to the US supreme Court, they can send the case back down to the District Court of Appeals for further consideration or they can send it back to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court and it would have to work its way back up. Worst of all they can give him a new trial based on a technicality and it will be as if the past 26 years never happened. The system is criminal and it needs to be changed and streamlined so it favors victims not killers. I’m not an attorney, but I am a survivor who has spent 26 years battling the appeals process and think one State and one Federal appeal within 5 years should be sufficient to prove innocence or guilt and to show if any constitutional rights have been violated during the trial.
Why is Mumia’s death important to you? Would a firm declaration by the court of his guilt, coupled with a sentence of “life without parole” be acceptable to you?
The dirty little secret that few want to acknowledge is that there is no such thing as life without parole in the US. There are many ways a lifer can get off in the future. It happens. Additionally, there will always be dishonest or misguided people who will lie and lobby for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s release.
There already has been a firm declaration of Jamal’s guilt issued by “the court”. Just read the findings of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Like everything else they are posted on our website and easy to find.) The courts aren’t arguing about Jamal’s guilt any longer. That’s been proven. What they are arguing now is hair splitting procedural technicalities.
Unless Mumia Abu-Jamal is executed my family and I will never have any closure and we will always live in fear that some day in the future the phone will ring and we’ll be told that he has been set free. It wasn’t my choice to give him the death penalty. A jury of 12 people that Jamal personally helped to select felt death was the appropriate sentence for his crime. In my opinion the courts have been very remiss in upholding their duty to enforce the law and the will of the people in any semblance of an appropriate timeframe. But there’s not much I can do about that.