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April 24, 1954
|Conviction(s)||First degree murder|
|Penalty||Previously death, to be re-sentenced to death or life without parole|
Mumia Abu-Jamal (born Wesley Cook on April 24, 1954) is an American convicted and sentenced to death for the December 9, 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He has been described as "perhaps the best known Death-Row prisoner in the world", and his sentence is one of the most debated today.
Since his conviction, his case has received international attention and he has become a controversial cultural icon. Supporters and opponents disagree on the appropriateness of the death penalty, whether he is guilty, or whether he received a fair trial. During his imprisonment he has published several books and other commentaries, notably Live from Death Row.
Since 1995, Abu-Jamal, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections #AM8335, has been incarcerated at Pennsylvania's SCI Greene, where most of the stateâs capital case inmates are held. In 2008, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the murder conviction, but ordered a new capital sentencing hearing over concerns that the jury was improperly instructed. Subsequently, the United States Supreme Court allowed his July 1982 conviction to stand, and ordered the appeals court to reconsider its decision to rescind the death sentence.
Abu-Jamal's father died when Abu-Jamal was nine years old. Abu-Jamal 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. According to Abu-Jamal, 'Mumia' means "Prince" and was the name of anti-colonial African nationalists conducting warfare against the British in Kenya at the time of its independence movement. 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.
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 information 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 late 1969 in New York City and early 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 Federal Bureau of Investigation COINTELPRO surveillance from then until about 1974.
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 1979â80 trial of certain of its members (the "MOVE Nine") charged with the murder of police officer James Ramp. During his broadcasting career, his high-profile interviews included Julius Erving, Bob Marley, and Alex Haley. Abu-Jamal was president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.
At the time of Daniel Faulkner's murder, Abu-Jamal was working as a taxicab driver in Philadelphia two nights a week to supplement his income. He had been working part-time as a reporter for WDAS, then an African-American-oriented and minority-owned radio station.
On December 9, 1981, in Philadelphia, close to the intersection at 13th and Locust Streets, Philadelphia Police Department officer Daniel Faulkner was shot and killed during a traffic stop. The stopped vehicle belonged to William Cook, Abu-Jamal's younger brother. Abu-Jamal's own vehicle, a taxi, was parked across the street. During the incident, Abu-Jamal was wounded by a shot from Faulkner, collapsed on the sidewalk, and was apprehended by the police. He was taken directly from the scene of the shooting to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where he 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 after the judge declared that Abu-Jamal was intentionally disruptive.
The prosecution presented four witnesses to the court. Robert Chobert, a cab driver, identified Abu-Jamal as the shooter. Cynthia White, a prostitute, testified that a man emerged from a nearby parking lot and shot 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 murder, 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 motherfucker, and I hope the motherfucker dies."
A .38 caliber Charter Arms 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 that Abu-Jamal had handled and fired the weapon were not performed: his struggle with arresting police at the scene would have compromised the forensic value of any such test.
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. Nor did his brother, who said at the crime scene, "I ain't got nothing to do with this."
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 Sabo, particularly focusing on the denial of his request to receive defense assistance from non-attorney John Africa 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.
In 1999 Arnold Beverly claimed that he and an unnamed assailant, not Mumia Abu-Jamal, shot Daniel Faulkner as part of a contract killing because Faulkner was interfering with graft and payoff to corrupt police. The Beverly affidavit became an item of division for Mumia's defense team as it led to the resignation of two of his attorneys and the firing of two others.
Private investigator George Newman claimed in 2001 that Chobert had recanted his testimony.
Cynthia White was declared to be dead by the state of New Jersey in 1992 although Pamela Jenkins claimed that she saw White alive as late as 1997. Mumia supporters often claim that White was a police informant and that she falsified her testimony against Abu-Jamal.
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 stated that Abu-Jamal was not capable of making such a dramatic bedside confession at that time.
Abu-Jamal did not make any public statements about Faulkner's murder until May 3, 2001. In his version of events, he 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 fails to explain the gun that was found near Abu-Jamal at the crime scene nor the corresponding firearms shoulder holster he was found to be wearing at the time of his arrest. It also fails to explain the five empty casings found in said firearm, and why they were consistent with bullet fragments taken from Faulkner's body. The driver originally stopped by police officer Faulkner, Abu-Jamal's brother William Cook, did not testify or make any statement until April 29, 2001, when he claimed that he had not seen who had shot Faulkner.
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 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.
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; Officer Faulkner's widow Maureen 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 judgment. Both parties appealed.
On December 6, 2005, the Third Circuit Court admitted four issues for appeal of the ruling of the District Court: 1) in relation to sentencing, whether the jury verdict form had been flawed and the judge's instructions to the jury had been confusing; 2) 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); 3) 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; 4) in relation to post-conviction review hearings in 1995â6, 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. The last of those claims was founded upon the assertion by court stenographer Terri Maurer-Carter in a 2001 affidavit that Judge Sabo had exclaimed "Yeah, and I'm going to help them fry the nigger" in the course of a conversation regarding Abu-Jamal's case. Sabo denied having made any such comment.
On March 27, 2008, the three-judge panel issued a majority 2â1 opinion upholding Yohn's 2001 opinion but rejecting the bias and Batson claims, with Judge Ambro dissenting on the Batson issue. If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania chooses not to hold a new hearing, Abu-Jamal will be automatically sentenced to life in prison. On July 22, 2008, Abu-Jamal's formal petition seeking reconsideration of the decision by the full Third Circuit panel of 12 judges was denied. On April 6, 2009, the United States Supreme Court also refused to hear Abu-Jamal's appeal. On January 19, 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to reconsider its decision to rescind the death penalty.
In May 1994, Abu-Jamal was engaged by National Public Radio's All Things Considered program to deliver a series of monthly three-minute commentaries on crime and punishment. The broadcast plans and commercial arrangement were canceled following condemnations from, among 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 record a keynote address for the graduating class at The Evergreen State College. The event was protested heavily. In 2000, he recorded a commencement address for Antioch College. The now defunct New College of California School of Law presented him with an honorary degree "for his struggle to resist the death penalty".
With occasional interruptions due to prison disciplinary actions, Abu-Jamal has for many years been a regular commentator on an online broadcast, sponsored by Prison Radio, as well as a regular columnist for Junge Welt, a Marxist newspaper in Germany. 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 financial gain 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, prison staff 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.
Abu-Jamal's supporters protest at perceived injustice or deplore the death penalty in his and other cases. Labor unions, US and foreign city governments, politicians, advocates, educators, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and human rights advocacy organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed concern about his case. They are opposed by the family of Daniel Faulkner, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Fraternal Order of Police. In August 1999, the Fraternal Order of Police called for an economic boycott against all individuals and organizations that support Abu-Jamal.
Abu-Jamal has been made an honorary citizen of about 25 cities around the world, including Paris, Montreal, Palermo and Copenhagen. In 2001, he received the sixth biennial Erich MÃ¼hsam Prize, which recognizes outstanding activism on behalf of a liberatory vision of human society in keeping with that of its anarchist namesake; in particular, most of its awardees have been activists in the cause of social justice for persecuted minorities. In October 2002, he was awarded honorary membership of the Berlin-based Association of Those Persecuted by the Nazi Regime â 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 honor. 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 decision. The House of Representatives voted 368â31 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 Philadelphiaâcovering approximately Germantown, Philadelphiaâfiled two criminal complaints in the French legal system against the city of Paris and the city of Saint-Denis, accusing the municipalities of "glorifying" Abu-Jamal and alleging the offense "apology or denial of crime" in respect of their actions.
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