Mumia Abu-JamalMumia Abu-Jamal
(born Wesley Cook April 24
) is a black journalist and political activist. He is most famous for his 1982 conviction and death sentence on charges of murder, and for the large subsequent campaigns for and against him.
Before his conviction, Abu-Jamal was a Philadelphia journalist. He began his career, at the age of fourteen, as the lieutenant minister of information with the Philadelphia Black Panther Party. He was also a prominent supporter of the back-to-nature group MOVE, and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.
On December 9, 1981, white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, for driving the wrong way on a one-way street with his lights out. Abu-Jamal, who was driving a cab at the time, happened on the scene. In an ensuing struggle, both Abu-Jamal and Faulkner were shot, Faulkner in the back and in the face; Faulkner died and Abu-Jamal was wounded. Abu-Jamal was arrested at 4 a.m. with a pistol registered in his name at his side.
On July 3, 1982, Abu-Jamal was convicted of Faulkner's murder and sentenced to death. In addition to a conventional criminal defense, Abu-Jamal raised many political issues in his trial, and begged several times for the court to allow his friend John Africa to testify.
His case has become a popular cause among many, among the left including the black nationalist movement, the anti-globalization movement and anti-death penalty activitst. Many supporters have called for a new trial, his release from prison, or the commutation of his sentence to life in prison.
Daniel Faulkner's family and the Fraternal Order of Police believe that Abu-Jamal killed Faulkner while Faulkner was engaged in a legal, justified arrest.
Abu-Jamal's supporters claim that the trial was unfair. Points asserted in his appeals or by his supporters include:
- Incompetent representation by a lawyer who was later disbarred and was allowed only $150 to interview witnesses.
- Of the twelve sitting jurors, only two were black. Abu-Jamal's supporters claim that the prosecution requested the removal of many black potential jurors specifically because they were black.
- The presiding judge, Albert F. Sabo, had a reputation as a judge with a bias toward convictions. He has sentenced more men to die (31 total, only 2 of them white) than any other sitting judge in the United States.
- Faulkner was shot with a .44 caliber gun, while Abu-Jamal's gun was a .38.
- Several of the witnesses, such as Pamela Jenkins, report being forced to tear up their witness statements and instead sign statements incriminating Abu-Jamal at the scene.
- One man, Arnold Beverley, has actually confessed to the murder of Daniel Faulkner.
- Conflicting testimony and missing witnesses.
His detractors respond that:
- Abu-Jamal's lawyer (Anthony Jackson) was in fact highly experienced, having served in twenty murder cases, with only six convictions and no executions prior to the Abu-Jamal case. Furthermore, he was chosen by Abu-Jamal after specific recommendation by his friends at the Black Journalists Association. Receipts indicate his defense spent $13,000, not $150.
- The racial composition of the jury was never recorded, making most such assertions speculative, but it is known at least two jurors were black, as was a third accepted by the prosecution who was later dismissed for violating sequestration. Both prosecution and defense were allowed up to 20 peremptory challenges, and the prosecution used 15 of these, giving specific, relevant reasons for each. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reviewed the case twice for evidence of racial bias and found none.
- The claim that Sabo has given more death sentences than anyone else is pure fabrication: no such statistics are collected, and so there is no way Abu-Jamal's supporters could know this. At any rate, it is the jury, not the judge, which convicts and gives death sentences. (However, see below regarding an error in the judge's sentencing instructions.) Also, Sabo presided over a heavily non-white district, which accounts for the racial make-up of his defendants (who he did not choose).
- Faulkner was shot with a .38. The claim he was shot with a .44 is based entirely on a handwritten note on a piece of scrap paper written by Dr. Paul Hoyer, who performed the autopsy; however, he testified that this was merely a guess he made before actually performing the autopsy, and this guess was not included in the autopsy report, as he had no ballistics training. This incorrect guess may be explained by the fact that the bullet was a +P type, which leaves a larger wound. The bullet was later extracted and tested, and it matched the type, brand, and caliber of a bullet found in Abu-Jamal's gun. Other tests showed the bullet was fired from the same type of gun as Abu-Jamal's.
- Arnold Beverley's account of the killing is completely at odds with the known facts on numerous points. Furthermore, it is common in high-profile murder cases for false confessions to be made to police.
- The so-called conflicts and holes are found to be no such thing on even the most elementary examination.
- Jamal's brother has declined to testify on his brother's behalf.
Abu-Jamal's conviction has been upheld in both state and federal courts. In December 2001, a federal judge affirmed his murder conviction but ordered that Abu-Jamal should either receive a new sentencing hearing or have his sentence commuted to life in prison because of an error by the trial judge in presenting rules of sentencing to the jury.
Since his imprisonment, Abu-Jamal has continued his political activism, publishing Live from Death Row, a book on life inside prisons, as well as making frequent commentaries on left-wing radio shows.
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 Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand DelanoŽ, 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 Communist-sponsored proposal to make Abu-Jamal an honorary citizen was approved by the city's council in 2001.
Amnesty International, according to their website, "has concluded that the proceedings used to convict and sentence Mumia Abu-Jamal to death were in violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty." However, it is worth noting that Amnesty is against the death penalty in all cases and specifically that they are "not in a position to say whether Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent or guilty."