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Born Wesley Cook
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Black-militant
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 9, 1981
Date of arrest: Same day (wounded by police)
Date of birth: April 24, 1954
Victim profile: Daniel Faulkner, 25 (Philadelphia Police Officer)
Method of murder: Shooting (.38 caliber Charter Arms revolver)
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Status: Sentenced to death July 2, 1982. Overturned. Sentenced to life December 2001
photo gallery

United States Court of Appeals
For the Third Circuit

opinion 01-9014 & 02-9001
justice for police officer daniel faulkner
No AM-8335
State Correctional Institution at Huntington
Huntington, Pennsylvania

At 3:55AM on December 9, 1981, a Philadelphia police officer stopped a Volkwagen Beetle that had been traveling the wrong way down a one-way street. The car was driven by Mumia Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook. Jamal, who was driving a taxicab nearby, stopped his vehicle & approached the scene. Minutes later, the police officer, Daniel Faulkner, lay dying of 4 bullet wounds.

Jamal's pistol was found at the scene. At trial, eyewitnesses pointed the finger at him. Forensic experts testified that the bullets that killed Faulkner could have been fired from Jamal's gun. But later investigation challenged their conclusion and the testimony of the eyewitnesses was called into question when several new witnesses claimed they had seen an unidentified man fleeing the scene.

Born Wesley Cook, Mumia Abu-Jamal was raised in Philadelphia and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School. He co-founded the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party & served as its minister of information. A respected newspaperman, he later became the president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. To supplement his income, he moonlighted as a cab driver.

Many organizations & publications call Mumia a political prisoner.

"First of all, let me begin with the firm belief that every African American prisoner in American prisons is a political prisoner. By that I mean that it is a policy decision at the highest levels & the lowest levels of this system to incriminate, to incarcerate, to harass Black life through this system."

Mumia adheres to the teachings of John Africa, who founded the controversial MOVE sect based in Philadelphia. His Black-militant stance is evident in his actions, his oratory, & his writings. And was surely a factor in his sentencing.

Jamal's religion is manifested in his long dreadlocks. His assertion that cutting his hair would violate his religious beliefs continues to confound the Department of Corrections, which had placed him in disciplinary confinement.

Mumia took his time with us. His attentiveness & commitment paralleled ours. He was very honest & uncompromising about his situation, but it was very hard to distinguish the rhetoric from what was sincere.

A known agitator, Mumia was a firebrand in the Philadelphia press, constantly antagonizing the political powers. He disliked the police; the police returned the sentiment. His editorials appeared during one of the city's darkest political periods.

When he was arrested, tried, & convicted, the press that had once at least tolerated him turned on him.

At the time of our interview, Jamal had spent over the 15 years fighting his conviction. His appeals are based on the charge that Philadelphia court are racist. Nationwide, only in Los Angeles & Harris County, Texas, have more people been sentenced to death. Only 9 percent of Pennsylvania's population, African Americans account for over 60 percent of those on death row. The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office sought the death penalty in 50% of all homicide cases at the time of Mumia's conviction.

Jamal probably has more media visibility than anyone else on death row in the US. From his cell he has written for the Yale Law Journal & the Philadelphia Inquirer. His comments have been broadcast on over a 100 radio stations around the nation. Recently Jamal published a collection of essays, Live from Death Row, which has evoked a storm of controversy over convicts' rights.

Jamal's face now appears in the bookstore windows, on graffiti-covered walls, & in mimeographed fliers all over the world. Many serious observers believe in his innocence, or at least that justice has not been served. Celebrities have rallied to his cause, among them Norman Mailer, Oliver Stone, Alice Walker, Paul Newman, Sting, Roger Ebert, Susan Sarandon, & Maya Angelou.

For Jamal, our project was a rare opportunity for personal contact. It sparked some inner turmoil.

"This is the first time I've met another human being other than a guard since July of 1983 without handcuffs or shackles....I don't know what my children, my wife, my brother, I don't know what they feel like anymore. Because, were we to meet...It would be a Plexiglas shield down here & a little steel-mesh, wire-mesh area down here where sound can travel through but where no touching is permitted.

Frankly, I'm a little uncomfortable. I've been shackled for so long I feel uncomfortable right the sense that the prison administrators agreed to allow us to do this project but would forbid me to hug my wife, or my children, or my grandchildren at this stage."

Since our meeting with Jamal, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has been holding him incommunicado-no visits from anyone except his family & lawyers.


Mumia Abu-Jamal

On December 9, 1981 a Philadelphia Police Officer was shot and killed. Twenty-five-year-old Daniel Faulkner was a decorated five-year veteran of the police force, recently married, a U.S. military veteran, a son and a brother. 

When police arrived, the shooter was still at the scene. His name was Mumia Abu-Jamal, AKA Wesley Cook. On the morning he murdered Daniel Faulkner, Jamal was working as a cab driver. 

At 3:55 AM on December 9, 1981, Faulkner, a twenty five year old Philadelphia police officer, observed a light blue Volkswagen driving the wrong way down a one-way street and then turning east onto Locust Street.

Officer Faulkner then pulled the Volkswagen over in view of several eyewitnesses.  Prior to leaving his car, Faulkner radioed for a police wagon to back him up. Unknown to him, this would later help preserve the scene of his own murder. Officer Faulkner exited his vehicle and approached the driver's side of the Volkswagen, which was being driven by Mr. William Cook.

Officer Faulkner asked Mr. Cook to exit his car. As the officer was looking away, several witnesses stated that they saw Mr. Cook punch Officer Faulkner in the face, violently attacking him. The officer responded by striking Cook, apparently with his flashlight, and then turned Cook towards the car attempting to subdue him. 

For reasons that remain unknown today, sitting in a taxicab across the narrow street and watching the events as they unfolded, was William Cook's older brother, Wesley Cook (AKA Mumia Abu Jamal).

According to witnesses, Jamal exited his taxi and ran across the street toward the officer and his brother. While Officer Faulkner was distracted by Cook, with his back turned to Jamal, Jamal was seen raising his arm and then firing one shot that found it's mark in Officer Faulkner’s back. Tests showed that the shot was fired from approximately 10-12 inches. 

Officer Faulkner was able to draw his gun and fire one return shot at his assailant. This bullet was later extracted from Jamal’s upper abdomen. Having fired this shot, Officer Faulkner fell to the sidewalk. While the wounded officer lay helpless on his back, Jamal stood over Danny with his five-shot, .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver and from approximately 3 feet, began to fire at the officer’s upper body. 

In an attempt to save his life, Faulkner began to roll from side to side as Jamal fired at him. Jamal missed his first several shots. He then moved closer to Faulkner and bent down over him.

Jamal put the muzzle of his gun within inches of Officer Faulkner's face, and squeezed off the final, and fatal, shot. The bullet entered the officer’s face slightly above the eye and came to rest in his brain, killing him instantly. 

In June of 1982 a trial was convened to hear the case against Mumia Abu-Jamal for the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner.

In the 1982 courtroom, acts of civil disobedience, shouting, chanting, violent outbursts, disruptions, forced removals, threats and even physical altercations were daily occurrences.  Jamal regularly disrupted the proceedings, and because of his intentionally disruptive actions, he was removed from the courtroom over 13 times. A running verbal battle was waged between Jamal and his attorney, the prosecutor, and the judge. 

On July 3rd, 1982, having heard the evidence against him, it took the jury just 3 hours to unanimously convicted Mumia Abu-Jamal of the premeditated murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner.

In the sentencing phase of the trial, which proved to be plagued by the same disruptions as the guilt phase, the same jury unanimously sentenced Jamal to death.  There are still appeals pending and this execution is not likely to take place on this date.


The Case of Mumia Abu Jamal

By Terry Bisson - New York Newsday, 1995

In 1978, Philadelphia Mayor (and ex-police chief) Frank Rizzo blew up at a press conference, threatening what he called "the new breed" of journalists. "They [the people] believe what you write and what you say," said Rizzo, "and it's got to stop. One day--and I hope it's in my career--you're going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do."

What the "new breed" was doing in 1978, and is still doing today, was exposing police misconduct. A cop had been killed in a confrontation between Philadelphia police and the radical MOVE organization (the same MOVE that was fire-bombed by the city seven years later), and the police version of who shot first hadn't been accepted without question. Rizzo feared a new trend, and he was right.

The trend has continued. Today, the Mollen Commission, the NYPD "party"in DC, the Rodney King case and hundreds of other local scandals have exposed the dark underside of police misconduct nationwide. Ironically, the most prominent of the "new breed" of journalists at whom Rizzo's outburst was directed is awaiting execution on Pennsylvania's Death Row, the victim--many believe--of a police frame-up.

Mumia Abu-Jamal began his journalism career with the Black Panther Party. The Panthers were the original "affirmative action" employer, and Mumia (then Wesley Cook) was Minister of Information for the Philadelphia chapter at age 15, writing for the national newspaper. A heady beginning for a West Philly kid. After the Panthers fell apart (helped by a stiff dose of FBI harassment) Mumia turned to broadcasting. He had the voice, the writing talent and the ambition, and by age 25, he was one of the top names in local radio, interviewing such luminaries as Jesse Jackson and the Pointer Sisters and winning a Peabody Award for his coverage of the Pope's visit. He was president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, called "one to watch" by Philadelphia magazine.

But Mumia was still a radical. The Philadelphia Inquirer called him "an eloquent activist not afraid to raise his voice," and this fearlessness was to be his undoing. His vocal support of MOVE's uncompromising life-style lost him jobs at Black stations, and he was forced to moonlight to support his family. The mayor's outburst marked the beginning of a campaign of police harassment that included such subtleties as a cocked finger and a 'bang bang' from a smirking cop, and escalated to a late-night police beating of Mumia's brother on the street.

Mumia was driving a cab that night. It is undisputed that he intervened. It is undisputed that both he and officer Daniel Faulkner were shot, and that Faulkner died. What is in dispute is who killed Faulkner. Mumia says it was someone else, and several witnesses saw another shooter flee the scene. Mumia's legally registered .38 was never decisively linked to Faulkner's wounds.

Mumia's murder trial was a policeman's dream. Denied the right to represent himself, he was defended by a reluctant incompetent who was later disbarred (and who has since filed an affadavit in Mumia's support detailing his delinquencies). Mumia was prosecuted by a DA who was later reprimanded for withholding evidence in another trial. He was allowed only $150 to interview witnesses.

But best of all was the judge. A life member of the Fraternal Order of Police, branded as a "defendant's nightmare" by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Judge Albert F. Sabo has sentenced more men to die (31 to date, only two of them white) than any other sitting judge in America. A fellow judge once called his courtroom a "vacation for prosecutors" because of bias toward convictions.

Sabo wouldn't allow Mumia to defend himself because his dreadlocks made jurors "nervous." Kept in a holding cell, he read about his own trial in the newspapers. A Black juror was removed for violating sequestration, while a white juror was given an court escort to take a civil service exam; in the end all the Black jurors but one were removed. A policeman who filed two conflicting reports was never subpoenaed (he was "on vacation"). Mumia's Black Panther history was waved like a bloody flag: Had he said, "All power to the people?" Yes, he admitted, he had said that. Character witnesses like poet Sonia Sanchez were cross-examined about their "anti-police" writings and associations.

Thus with Judge Sabo's help, an award-winning radical journalist with no criminal record was portrayed as a police assassin lying in wait since age 15. After Mumia's conviction, Sabo instructed the jury: "You are not being asked to kill anybody" by imposing the death penalty, since the defendant will get "appeal after appeal after appeal." Such instruction, grounds for reversal since Caldwell vs. Mississippi, was allowed in Mumia's case.

Mumia's appeals have so far gone unanswered. After being on Death Row for thirteen years, he is now the target of a police-led smear campaign. Last year NPR's "All Things Considered" canceled a scheduled series of his commentaries after the Fraternal Order of Police objected. Mumia's book, LIVE FROM DEATH ROW, has been greeted with a boycott and a skywriter circling the publisher's Boston offices: "Addison-Wesley Supports Cop Killers" Officer Faulkner's widow has gone on TV claiming that Mumia smiled at her when her husband's bloody shirt was shown--even though the record shows that Mumia wasn't in the courtroom that day.

Mumia and his supporters want only one thing--a new trial, with an unbiased judge and a competent lawyer. Defense attorney Leonard Weinglass has entered a motion to have Judge Sabo removed from the case because he cannot provide even the "appearance of fairness." The struggle became a race against time last month, when Pennsylvania Governor Ridge, though fully aware of the many questions in the case, signed a death warrant scheduling Mumia for execution August 17.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was not surprised. Several of the essays in his book deal with America's frantic "march toward the death chamber." As he wrote several years ago in the Yale Law Journal, "states that have not slain in a generation now ready their machinery: generators whine, poison liquids are mixed, and gases are measured and readied."

Unless Mumia Abu Jamal's final petition is answered, and he gets the fair trial he deserves, America will see its the first explicitly political execution since the Rosenbergs were put to death in 1953. Frank Rizzo's angry threat will be fulfilled, for one "new breed" journalist at least. It will stop. We won't hear any more criticism of the police from Mumia Abu-Jamal. Forever.


Mumia Abu-Jamal (born Wesley Cook April 24, 1954), a journalist and political activist, was convicted of the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner, which took place on December 9, 1981, and was sentenced to death.

He has become a cause célèbre for many opponents of the death penalty as well as a focus of attention of many of the death penalty's supporters. Furthermore, many of his supporters claim that his arrest and conviction were politically motivated and that he qualifies as a political prisoner.

In December 2001, Abu-Jamal's death sentence (but not his conviction) was overturned by Federal District Court judge William Yohn. Both the prosecution and the defense have appealed Yohn's ruling.

The murder of Daniel Faulkner

On the morning of December 9, 1981, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop of a vehicle driven by William Cook, Abu-Jamal's younger brother.

In the trial the prosecution successfully argued that the following events occurred: during the traffic stop, Cook assaulted Faulkner, who in turn attempted to subdue Cook. At this point, Abu-Jamal emerged from a nearby taxi which he was driving and shot Faulkner in the back. Faulkner was able to return fire, seriously wounding Abu-Jamal.

Abu-Jamal then advanced on Faulkner, and fired four additional shots at close range, one of them striking Faulkner in the face, killing the policeman. Abu-Jamal was unable to flee due to his own gunshot wound, and was taken into custody by other police officers, who had been summoned by Faulkner at the time of the traffic stop.

Abu-Jamal was taken directly from the scene of the shooting to a hospital, and treated for his injury. Witnesses stated that while he was receiving medical treatment, Mumia Abu-Jamal acknowledged that he shot Daniel Faulkner.

Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal claim this version of events relies on evidence and eyewitnesses that have since been discredited. Three of the prosecution's eyewitnesses (Veronica Jones, William Singletary, and Robert Chobert) have discredited their own testimony stating that they lied about Mumia Abu-Jamal because they were threatened, coerced, or made promises by the police to get them to give false testimony against him.

Jamal himself did not give the police his version of the events initially. But he later gave a sworn statement claiming that he had been sitting in his cab across the street when he heard the sound of gunshots. Upon seeing his brother standing in the street staggering and dizzy, Jamal ran across the street to William Cook and was shot by a uniformed police officer (not Faulkner). He also claimed he was tortured by the police before receiving medical aid.

Supporters of the prosecution claim Jamal's story is contradicted by eyewitness testimony and ballistics evidence. Furthermore, they point out it does not explain how Jamal's gun was found next to him at the scene, containing 5 spent shell casings. Prosecution supporters also claim that the eyewitnesses gave identical versions of the events to separate police officers only minutes after the shooting, making the possibility of coersion unlikely.

Court proceedings and controversies surrounding the 1982 trial

The murder of Daniel Faulkner has resulted in a series of legal battles that continue to the present day.

Abu-Jamal was charged with first degree murder. He initially retained the services of criminal defense attorney Anthony Jackson. In May 1982 Abu-Jamal announced that he would represent himself with Jackson continuing to act as his legal advisor. Although the judge initially allowed Abu-Jamal to represent himself, the judge eventually reversed his own decision due to Abu-Jamal's disruptive behavior in the court, and it was ordered that Anthony Jackson resume his role as Abu-Jamal’s attorney.

The case went to trial in June 1982. The prosecution presented both eyewitness and physical evidence against Abu-Jamal.

There were four eyewitnesses to the shooting: Robert Chobert, a cab driver (who later said that the police coerced him into making his false testimony); Michael Scanlan, a businessman who had been visiting from out of town on the night of the killing; Cynthia White, a prostitute that was later revealed to be a police informant, and Albert Magilton, a passerby. All four of these witnesses were on the scene at the time of the shooting, and all of them identified Abu-Jamal as the person who shot Officer Faulkner.

Finally, three additional witnesses, including hospital security guard Priscilla Durham and two members of the Philadelphia Police Department, testified that while Abu-Jamal was being treated for his own gunshot wound, he said that he had shot Daniel Faulkner, and hoped that the officer would die.

Yet, strong evidence refutes the argument that Mumia admitted his own guilt in the hospital.

One of these pieces of evidence is the original police report by Officer Gary Wakshul, who was with Mumia the entire time through his arrest and medical treatment. In Wakshul's official report he stated of the time he spent with Mumia Abu-Jamal, "during this time the Negro male made no comment." Yet Gary Wakshul stated later that he heard Mumia confess that night. Gary Wakshul didn't "remember" this confession until almost three months after Mumia's arrest when prosecutor McGill met with police asking for a confession.

Officer Wakshul, a trained police officer, stated that he didn't think the confession was important at the time he wrote his original report.[Source: HBO Special, A Case For Reasonable Doubt]

Judge Albert Sabo did not allow the jury to hear Gary Wakshul's original report.

In court hospital security guard Priscilla Durham testified that she heard Mumia Abu-Jamal yell out as he lay bleeding in the hospital, "I shot the motherfucker and I hope he dies."

Yet on April 24, 2003 the half- brother of Priscilla Durham, Kenneth Pate, submitted a declaration through Mumia’s lawyers in the U.S. Court of Appeals and in the Third Circuit Court stating, “I read a newspaper article about the Mumia Abu-Jamal case. It said Priscilla Durham had testified at Mumia's trial that when she was working as a security guard at the hospital she heard Mumia say that he had killed the police officer. When I read this I realized it was a different story from what she had told me.”

Instead Kenneth Pate asked her, ‘"Did you hear him say that?” [I shot the motherfucker and I hope he dies.] " Priscilla answered, "All I heard him say was: 'Get off me, get off me, they're trying to kill me."

The physical evidence was also damaging for Abu-Jamal. A .38 handgun Abu-Jamal had purchased to defend himself as a cab driver in 1979 was found at the scene, next to Abu-Jamal, containing 5 spent shell casings.

Ballistics experts never did any tests to see if the weapon had been recently fired [Source: HBO Special, A Case For Reasonable Doubt]. The coroner who performed the autopsy on Faulkner, Dr. Pual Hoyer, stated in his notes that the bullet he extracted from Faulkner was a .44 caliber, not a .38.

However, he later testified that he was just making a rough guess based on his own observations, as he was not a firearms expert and had no ballistics training. He also testified that his statement about the bullet's caliber was only written in his personal notes and never meant to be used as an official report.

Official ballistics tests done on the fatal bullet verify that Officer Faulkner was killed by a .38 caliber bullet. The fatal .38 slug was a Federal brand Special +P bullet with a hollow base (the hollow base in a +P bullet was distinctive to Federal ammunition at that time), the exact type (+P with a hollow base), brand (Federal), and caliber (.38) of bullet found in Jamal's gun.

These experts also testified that the bullet taken from Abu-Jamal had been fired from Officer Faulkner's service weapon. The defense' ballistics expert, George Fassnacht, did not dispute the prosecution's findings.[Source]

Amnesty International was not impressed by the physical evidence and included it in their list of trial irregularities stating there was a "lack of adequate ballistic tests to determine whether Abu-Jamal's gun had recently been fired. It was not determined, for instance, whether there was residue on his hands from firing a gun."

In addition the resources provided to Mumia Abu-Jamal's public defender, Anthony Jackson, were not adequate to retain a ballistics expert to testify at the trial.[Source: HBO Special, A Case For Reasonable Doubt]

William Cook, who might have been expected to testify on his brother's behalf, and who was present at the scene at the beginning, did not testify, but has stated in a signed affidavit that he is willing to testify and that Mumia Abu-Jamal did not kill Officer Faulkner.

Mumia Abu-Jamal also did not testify in his own defense. Mumia Abu-Jamal’s explanation for this can be found in a May 3, 2001 signed affidavit where he states, "At my trial I was denied the right to defend myself I had no confidence in my court-appointed attorney, who never even asked me what happened the night I was shot and the police officer was killed; and I was excluded from at least half the trial. Since I was denied all my rights at my trial I did not testify. I would not be used to make it look like I had a fair trial."

The jury deliberated for two days before finding Abu-Jamal guilty, and he was subsequently sentenced to death.

It has been contended that there were many irregularities surrounding the trial and conviction of Abu-Jamal, leading many to argue that his conviction was invalid.

The 2001 appeal

District Judge William Yohn overturned Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence on December 18, 2001 citing irregularities in the original sentencing process. Mumia Abu-Jamal's defense attorneys, Eliot Grossman and Marlene Kamish, were not happy with the ruling because it denied Mumia Abu-Jamal a new trial based on evidence that they have argued proves that Mumia Abu-Jamal is the victim of a frame-up. The District Attorney's Office did not agree that the death sentence against Mumia Abu-Jamal should be overturned. Both sides appealed the ruling.

Abu-Jamal’s life since his conviction

Since his imprisonment, Abu-Jamal has continued his political activism, publishing Live from Death Row, a book on life inside prisons. He has also completed his Bachelor of Arts from Goddard College, and earned a Master of Arts from California State University, Dominguez Hills, both by distance education.

Via tape from his cell he has made commencement speeches to graduating classes at UC Santa Cruz, Evergreen State College, Antioch College, and Occidental College, and has made frequent commentaries on radio shows. In addition he has been a "guest speaker" on Immortal Technique's musical albums. The organization Axis of Justice have interviewed him for their weekly radio show.

International response

A broad international movement supports Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In October 2003, Mumia Abu-Jamal was awarded the status of honorary citizen of Paris in a ceremony attended by former Black Panther Angela Davis. The left-wing mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, said in a press release that the award was meant to be a reminder of the continuing fight against the death penalty, which was abolished in France in 1981. The proposal to make Abu-Jamal an honorary citizen was approved by the city's council in 2001. In 2006, a street was named after Abu-Jamal by the Communist administration of the city of Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris, provoking some uproar in the U.S.


  • Abu-Jamal, Mumia. Live from Death Row. HarperTrade, 1996. ISBN 0380727668

  • Abu-Jamal, Mumia. We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party. South End Press, 2004. ISBN 0896087182

  • Abu-Jamal, Mumia. Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience. South End Press, 2003. ISBN 0896086992

  • Abu-Jamal, Mumia. Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life of African and African-American People. Africa World Press, 2003. ISBN 1592210198

  • Abu-Jamal, Mumia. All Things Censored. Seven Stories Press, 2000. ISBN 1583220224

  • Amnesty International. The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Life in the Balance (Open Media Pamphlet Series). Open Media, 2001. ISBN 158322081X

  • Lindorff, David. Killing Time. Common Courage Press, 2002. ISBN 1567512283

  • Williams, Daniel R. Executing Justice: An Inside Account of the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. St. Martin's Press, 2002. ISBN 0375761241


Mumia Abu-Jamal (born Wesley Cook on April 24, 1954) is an American who was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner.

During his imprisonment he has been an honoree of municipal, educational and civil society organizations, and courted controversy as a spoken word commentator and published author of several works—most notably Live from Death Row. He is currently a prisoner at State Correctional Institution Greene near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

Prior to his arrest he was a Black Panther Party activist, cab driver, and journalist. Since his conviction, his case has received international attention. Supporters and opponents disagree on the appropriateness of the death penalty, whether he is guilty, or whether he received a fair trial and the benefit of due process.

In December 2001, a judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania affirmed his conviction but quashed the original punishment of death and ordered resentencing.

Both Abu-Jamal, who wanted the conviction overturned, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, who wanted the original sentence upheld, appealed. The case was orally argued before a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia on May 17, 2007. On March 27, 2008, the panel issued its opinion confirming the decision of the District Court.

Early life and activism

Abu-Jamal's father died when he was nine years old. He was given the name Mumia in 1968 by his high school teacher, a Kenyan instructing a class on African cultures in which students took African classroom names. Abu-Jamal claims that 'Mumia' means "Prince" and was the name of anti-colonial African nationalists conducting warfare against the British in Kenya at the time of the Uhuru.

He adopted the surname Abu-Jamal ("father of Jamal" in Arabic) after the birth of his son Jamal on July 18, 1971. His first marriage at age 19, to Jamal's mother, Biba, was short-lived. Their daughter, Lateefa, was born shortly after the wedding. Mazi, Abu-Jamal's son by his second wife, Marilyn (known as "Peachie"), was born in early 1978. Abu-Jamal separated from Marilyn and commenced living with his third and current wife, Wadiya, shortly before the events that led to his incarceration.

Involvement with the Black Panthers

In his own writings, Abu-Jamal describes his adolescent experience of being "kicked ... into the Black Panther Party" after suffering a beating from white racists and a policeman for his efforts to disrupt a George Wallace for President rally in 1968.

The following year, at the age of 15, he helped form the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party, taking appointment, in his own words, as the chapter's "Lieutenant of Information", exercising a responsibility for authoring propaganda and news communications.

In one of the interviews he gave at the time he quoted Mao Zedong, saying that "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun". That same year, he dropped out of Benjamin Franklin High School and took up residence in the branch's headquarters.

He spent the winter of 1969 in New York City and the spring of 1970 in Oakland, living and working with BPP colleagues in those cities. He was a party member from May 1969 until October 1970 and was subject to FBI COINTELPRO surveillance from then until about 1974.

Education and journalism career

After leaving the Panthers he returned to his old high school, but was suspended for distributing literature calling for "black revolutionary student power". He also led unsuccessful protests to change the school name to Malcolm X High. After attaining his GED, he studied briefly at Goddard College in rural Vermont.

By 1975 he was pursuing a vocation in radio newscasting, first at Temple University's WRTI and then at commercial enterprises. In 1975, he was employed at radio station WHAT and he became host of a weekly feature program of WCAU-FM in 1978. He was also employed for brief periods at radio station WPEN, and became active in the local chapter of the Marijuana Users Association of America.

From 1979 he worked at WUHY public radio station until 1981 when he was asked to submit his resignation after a dispute about the requirements of objective focus in his presentation of news.

As a radio journalist he earned the moniker "the voice of the voiceless" and was renowned for identifying with and giving exposure to the MOVE anarcho-primitivist commune in Philadelphia's Powelton Village neighborhood, including reportage of the 1979–80 trial of certain of its members (the "MOVE Nine") charged with the murder of police officer James Ramp.

At the time of the killing of Daniel Faulkner, Abu-Jamal was working as a taxicab driver in Philadelphia. He was also the outgoing President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, and had been working part-time as a reporter for WDAS, then an African-American-oriented and minority-owned radio station.

Arrest for murder and trial

On December 9, 1981, Philadelphia Police Department officer Daniel Faulkner was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop of a vehicle belonging to William Cook, Abu-Jamal's younger brother. In the altercation Abu-Jamal was wounded by a shot from Faulkner, and collapsed on the sidewalk. He was taken directly from the scene of the shooting to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and received treatment for his injuries. He was later charged with the first-degree murder of Daniel Faulkner.

The case went to trial in June 1982 in Philadelphia. Judge Albert F. Sabo initially agreed to Abu-Jamal's request to represent himself, with criminal defense attorney Anthony Jackson acting as his legal advisor. During the first day of the trial this decision was reversed and Jackson was ordered to resume acting as Abu-Jamal's sole advocate by reason of what the judge deemed to be intentionally disruptive actions on Abu-Jamal's part.

Prosecution case at trial

The prosecution presented four witnesses to the court. Robert Chobert, a cab driver, identified Abu-Jamal as the shooter. Cynthia White, a prostitute, claimed to see a man emerge from a nearby parking lot and shoot Faulkner.

Michael Scanlon, a motorist, testified that from two car lengths away, he saw a man, matching Abu-Jamal's description, run across the street from a parking lot and shoot Faulkner. Albert Magilton, a pedestrian who did not see the actual killing, testified to witnessing Faulkner pull over Cook's car. At the point of seeing Abu-Jamal start to cross the street toward them from the parking lot, Magilton turned away and lost sight of what happened next.

The prosecution also presented two witnesses who were present at the hospital after the altercation. Hospital security guard Priscilla Durham and Police Officer Garry Bell testified that Abu-Jamal confessed in the hospital by saying, "I shot the mother fucker, and I hope the mother fucker dies."

A .38 caliber revolver, belonging to Abu-Jamal, with five spent cartridges was retrieved at the scene. The shell casings and rifling characteristics of the weapon were consistent with bullet fragments taken from Faulkner's body. Tests to confirm Abu-Jamal had handled and fired the weapon were not performed; Abu-Jamal's struggle with the police during his arrest would have made the potential results scientifically unreliable.

Defense case at trial

The defense maintained that Abu-Jamal was innocent of the charges and that the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses was unreliable.

The defense presented nine character witnesses, including poet Sonia Sanchez who testified that Abu-Jamal was "viewed by the black community as a creative, articulate, peaceful, genial man". Another defense witness, Dessie Hightower, testified that he saw a man running along the street shortly after the shooting although he did not see the actual shooting itself.

His testimony contributed to the development of a "running man theory", based on the possibility that a "running man" may have been the actual shooter. Veronica Jones also testified for the defense but she did not see anyone running. Other potential defense witnesses refused to appear in court. Abu-Jamal did not testify in his own defense.

Verdict and sentence

The jury delivered a unanimous guilty verdict after three hours of deliberations.

In the sentencing phase of the trial, Abu-Jamal read to the jury from a prepared statement. He was then cross-examined about issues relevant to the assessment of his character by Joseph McGill, the prosecuting attorney.

In his statement Abu-Jamal criticized his attorney as a "legal trained lawyer" who was imposed on him against his will and who "knew he was inadequate to the task and chose to follow the directions of this black-robed conspirator, [Judge] Albert Sabo, even if it meant ignoring my directions".

He claimed that his rights had been "deceitfully stolen" from him by the judge, particularly focusing on the denial of his request to receive defense assistance from John Africa (who was not an attorney) and being prevented from proceeding pro se. He quoted remarks of John Africa and declared himself "innocent of these charges".

Abu-Jamal was subsequently sentenced to death by the unanimous decision of the jury.

Post-trial developments

Since the sentence, new information which contradicts the trial evidence has surfaced.

Eighteen years after the slaying, Arnold Beverly claimed that, "wearing a green (camouflage) army jacket", he had run across the street and shot Daniel Faulkner as part of a contract killing because Faulkner was interfering with graft and payoff to corrupt police. Private investigator George Newman claimed in 2001 that Chobert had recanted his testimony. Cynthia White died in 1992, and it was subsequently alleged that she falsified her testimony.

Kenneth Pate, a stepbrother of Priscilla Durham who was imprisoned with Abu-Jamal on other charges, has since claimed that Durham admitted to not hearing the hospital confession. The hospital doctors have claimed that Abu-Jamal was not capable of making such a dramatic bedside confession at that time.

In his version of events, detailed in a sworn statement almost 20 years afterwards, Abu-Jamal claimed that he was sitting in his cab across the street when he heard shouting, then saw a police vehicle, then heard the sound of gunshots. Upon seeing his brother appearing disoriented across the street, Abu-Jamal ran to him from the parking lot and was shot by a police officer.

The statement includes no mention of the gun that was found nearby him at the crime scene nor the corresponding firearms shoulder holster he was found to be wearing at the time of his arrest. William Cook did not testify or make any statement until 2001 when he claimed that he had not seen who had shot Faulkner.

Appeals and review

State appeals

Direct appeal of his conviction was considered and denied by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on March 6, 1989, subsequently denying rehearing. The Supreme Court of the United States denied his petition for writ of certiorari on October 1, 1990, and denied his petition for rehearing twice up to June 10, 1991.

On June 1, 1995 his death warrant was signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. Its execution was suspended while Abu-Jamal pursued state post-conviction review. At the post-conviction review hearings, new witnesses were called. William "Dales" Singletary testified that he saw the shooting and that the gunman was the passenger in Cook's car.

Singletary's account contained discrepancies which rendered it "not credible" in the opinion of the court. William Harmon, a convicted fraudster, testified that Faulkner's murderer fled in a car which pulled up at the crime scene, and could not have been Abu-Jamal.

However, Robert Harkins testified that he had witnessed a man stand over Faulkner as the latter lay wounded on the ground, who shot him point-blank in the face and then "walked and sat down on the curb".

The six judges of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled unanimously that all issues raised by Abu-Jamal, including the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, were without merit.

The Supreme Court of the United States denied a petition for certiorari against that decision on October 4, 1999, enabling Governor Ridge to sign a second death warrant on October 13, 1999. Its execution in turn was stayed as Abu-Jamal commenced his pursuit of federal habeas corpus review.

In 2008, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rejected a further request from Abu-Jamal for a hearing into claims that the trial witnesses perjured themselves on the grounds that he had waited too long before filing the appeal.

Federal ruling directing resentencing

Judge William H. Yohn Jr. of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania upheld the conviction but voided the sentence of death on December 18, 2001, citing irregularities in the original process of sentencing. Particularly,

"...the jury instructions and verdict sheet in this case involved an unreasonable application of federal law. The charge and verdict form created a reasonable likelihood that the jury believed it was precluded from considering any mitigating circumstance that had not been found unanimously to exist."

He ordered the State of Pennsylvania to commence new sentencing proceedings within 180 days and ruled that it was unconstitutional to require that a jury's finding of circumstances mitigating against determining a sentence of death be unanimous.

Eliot Grossman and Marlene Kamish, attorneys for Abu-Jamal, criticized the ruling on the grounds that it denied the possibility of a trial de novo at which they could introduce evidence that their client had been framed.

Prosecutors also criticized the ruling; Maureen Faulkner (Officer Faulkner's widow) described Abu-Jamal as a "remorseless, hate-filled killer" who would "be permitted to enjoy the pleasures that come from simply being alive" on the basis of the judgement. Both parties appealed.

Federal higher appeal

On December 6, 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit admitted four issues for appeal of the ruling of the District Court:

  • in relation to sentencing, whether the jury verdict form had been flawed and the judge's instructions to the jury had been confusing;

  • in relation to conviction and sentencing, whether racial bias in jury selection existed to an extent tending to produce an inherently biased jury and therefore an unfair trial (the Batson claim);

  • in relation to conviction, whether the prosecutor improperly attempted to reduce jurors' sense of responsibility by telling them that a guilty verdict would be subsequently vetted and subject to appeal;

  • in relation to post-conviction review hearings in 1995–6, whether the presiding judge—who had also presided at the trial—demonstrated unacceptable bias in his conduct.

The Third Circuit Court heard oral arguments in the appeals on May 17, 2007, at the United States Courthouse in Philadelphia. The appeal panel consisted of Chief Judge Anthony Joseph Scirica, Judge Thomas Ambro, and Judge Robert Cowen.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania sought to reinstate the sentence of death, on the basis that Yohn's ruling was flawed, as he should have deferred to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which had already ruled on the issue of sentencing, and the Batson claim was invalid because Abu-Jamal made no complaints during the original jury selection.

Abu-Jamal's counsel told the Third Circuit Court that Abu-Jamal did not get a fair trial because the jury was both racially-biased and misinformed, and the judge was a racist. (Court stenographer Terri Maurer-Carter stated in a 2001 affidavit that the presiding judge had exclaimed, "Yeah, and I'm going to help them fry the nigger", in the course of a conversation regarding Abu-Jamal's case. Judge Sabo denied making such a comment.)

On March 27, 2008, the three-judge panel issued its opinion upholding Yohn's 2001 opinion but rejecting the bias and Batson (with Ambro dissenting) claims. If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania chooses not to hold a new hearing, Abu-Jamal will be automatically sentenced to life in prison. This decision can still be appealed to the full Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court of the United States.

Life as a prisoner

In May 1994, Abu-Jamal was engaged by National Public Radio's All Things Considered program to deliver a series of monthly 3-minute commentaries on crime and punishment. The broadcast plans and commercial arrangement were canceled following condemnations from, amongst others, the Fraternal Order of Police and US Senator Bob Dole (R-KS). The commentaries later appeared in print in May 1995 as part of Live from Death Row.

In 1999, he was invited to deliver the keynote address for the graduating class at The Evergreen State College. The event was protested heavily. In 2000, he gave a commencement address at Antioch College. The New College of California School of Law has presented him with an honorary degree "for his struggle to resist the death penalty".

While his spoken word commentaries are recorded regularly, and may be listened to online at Prison Radio, and he continues to write a Saturday weekly column for the German language Marxist newspaper junge Welt, restrictions have at times been imposed upon his activities.

In 1995, he was punished with solitary confinement for engaging in entrepreneurship contrary to prison regulations. Subsequent to the airing of the 1996 HBO documentary Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?, which included footage from visitation interviews conducted with him, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections acted to ban outsiders from using any recording equipment in state prisons.

In litigation before the US Court of Appeals in 1998 he successfully established his right to write for reward in prison. The same litigation also established that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections had illegally opened his mail in an attempt to establish whether he was writing for financial gain.

When, for a brief time in August 1999, he began delivering his radio commentaries live on the Pacifica Network's Democracy Now! weekday radio newsmagazine, local prison authorities severed the connecting wires of his telephone from their mounting in mid-performance.

His publications include Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience, in which he explores religious themes, All Things Censored, a political critique examining issues of crime and punishment, and We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, which is a history of the Black Panthers drawing on autobiographical material.

Popular support and opposition

A broad international movement has allied in support of Abu-Jamal's cause with opposition coalesced about the family of Daniel Faulkner, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Fraternal Order of Police, which in August 1999 called for an economic boycott against all individuals and organizations that have expressed sympathy for Abu-Jamal.

His supporters protest at perceived injustice or deplore the death penalty in his and other cases, and encompass prominent American labor unions and congresses; endorsees of the Partisan Defense Committee's campaign; US and foreign city governments; politicians; advocates; educators; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; human rights advocacy organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International; and celebrities, such as the rock band Rage Against the Machine.

Honors and controversy

Abu-Jamal has been made an honorary citizen of about 25 cities around the world, including Paris, Montreal and Palermo. In 2001, he received the biannual Lübeck Erich Mühsam Prize, awarded by Frank-Thomas Gaulin of Kunsthaus Lübeck, for special commitment to human rights.

In October 2002, he was conferred honorary membership of the Berlin-based Association of Those Persecuted by the Nazi Regime - Federation of Antifascists and Antifascist Groups (VVN-BdA).

On April 29, 2006, a newly-paved road in the Parisian suburb of St Denis was named Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal in his honour. In protest of the street-naming, US Congressman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced resolutions in both Houses of Congress condemning the action. The House of Representatives voted 368–31 in favor of the resolution.

In December 2006, the 25th anniversary of the murder, the executive committee of the Republican Party for the 59th Ward of the City of Philadelphia (covering approximately Germantown, Philadelphia), filed two criminal complaints in the French legal system against the city of Paris and the city of Saint-Denis citing the wrong of those municipalities' actions in "glorifying" Abu-Jamal and alleging the offense "apology or denial of crime" in respect of their actions.



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