Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Case: The Guy Who Got Off Death Row
Mumia Abu-Jamal was born as Wesley Cook on April 24, 1954. Mumia Abu-Jamal was a journalist and a political activist who was charged and convicted of murder. Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death back in 1982 for the murder of Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
Abu-Jamal became very well-known while he was on death row due to his commentary and writings on the United States criminal justice system.
Abu-Jamal submitted many appeals throughout the years. Overall, the Federal Court did overturn Abu-Jamal death penalty back in 2011. It was thanks to the prosecution for agreeing to change the sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 2012, Abu-Jamal transferred into the general population.
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Case
On December 9, 1981, at approximately 3:55 am, near the intersection of Locust and 13th street in Philadelphia. Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia Police Officer was conducting a standard traffic stop on a vehicle that was owned and driven none other than William Cook, who is Abu-Jamal’s younger brother.
During this time Cook and Faulkner got into a physical confrontation. Abu-Jamal was driving his cab through the area, when he saw this altercation. Abu-Jamal parked and then ran across the street towards the altercation between Faulkner and Cook. Faulkner was shot in the face from behind, while Abu-Jamal was shot in the stomach. Unfortunately, Faulkner died at the crime scene from his shot to the back of the head.
Arrest and Trial
When police arrived at the scene, they immediately arrested Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was arrested wearing his shoulder holster. Abu-Jamal had his revolver, which consisted of his five spent cartridges near him. Abu-Jamal was then taken down to the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital right from the crime scene, so he can get treated for his gunshot wound to the stomach.
After Abu-Jamal was treated for his gunshot wound, he was then taking down to the Police Headquarters, where he was officially charged with the first-degree murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal was not released on bail or bond.
Prosecution Case at Trial
The prosecution during the Abu-Jamal’s trial put on the stand four witnesses that saw the altercation between Cook, Faulkner, and Abu-Jamal.
The first witness was Robert Chobert. Chobert was a cab driver who stated he was parked right behind the police officer, Faulkner. Chobert was successfully able to identify Abu-Jamal as the one who shot Faulkner.
The second witness was Cynthia White. White was a prostitute. White stated that Abu-Jamal came charging from a nearby parking lot prior to shooting Faulkner.
The third witness was Michael Scanlan. Scanlan was just driving by when this altercation happened. Scanlan stated that he was approximately two car lengths away, when he saw a man that he identified as Abu-Jamal run from a nearby parking lot before shooting Faulkner.
The fourth and final witness was Albert Magilton. Magilton was a pedestrian who happened to be in the area during this altercation. Magilton stated while he did not see the actual shooting, but he did see Faulkner pull over Abu-Jamal’s younger brother, Cook. But when Abu-Jamal was running from a nearby parking lot toward the altercation at hand, Magilton turned is head in the opposite direction.
The prosecution also called two more witnesses from the hospital where Abu-Jamal was brought to be treated after the altercation.
The first hospital witness was Priscilla Durham, a hospital security guard and Garry Bell, a police officer. These two witnesses stated that Abu-Jamal said how he shot the officer and he hopes the officer dies.
At the crime scene, a .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver along with the five spent cartridges was obtained. Abu-Jamal was still wearing his shoulder holster. The Supervisor of the Philadelphia Police Department’s firearms identification unit staff member, Anthony Paul stated that the cartridge cases along with the rifling characteristics of the revolver matched up with the bullet fragments that were taken from Faulkner’s dead body. However, the department did not run tests to see if Abu-Jamal was the one who handled or even fired the revolver. Unfortunately, since the revolver was in contact with the police officers who were arresting him among the other surfaces at the scene, DNA and other forensic value were compromised.
Defense Case at Trial
During Abu-Jamal’s case, Abu-Jamal’s defense team maintained that their client was innocent. They stated that the witnesses that the prosecution put on the stand were very unreliable sources.
Abu-Jamal’s defense team put on the stand their own nine-character witnesses. On major character witness was Sonia Sanchez. Sanchez was a poet. She stated that Abu-Jamal was considered as a “creative, articulate, peaceful, genial man.”
While another witness, Dessie Hightower, stated that he saw a man running through the streets after the shooting had occurred, even though he did not see the actual shooting itself. Hightower testimony was the start of a conspiracy theory about the “running man.”
While another key witness, Veronica Jones was put on the stand even though she did not actively see another man.
However, other critical witnesses for the defense team, refused to go on the stand. Abu-Jamal, himself did not actively go on the stand to take his own defense. Even Abu-Jamal’s younger brother, William Cook did not go on the stand for his brother’s defense. Cook kept telling the investigators after the incident happened that he has absolutely nothing to do with this situation.
Verdict and Sentence
It only took jurors three hours to deliberate the verdict of Abu-Jamal. The jury gave a unanimous guilty verdict when it came down to the first-degree murder charge of Daniel Faulkner.
During the sentence phase of Abu-Jamal’s trial, Abu-Jamal was required to read a prepared statement to the jury. Abu-Jamal was then cross-examined about relevant issues that coincided with his character assessment by the prosecuting attorney, Joseph McGill.
During Abu-Jamal’s statement, he criticized his own defense team. He stated that his defense lawyer was not adequate for the task at hand and chose to follow the directions of the judge who was a conspirator. He further went on to state that he felt as if his rights were stripped from him, by focusing on the denial of his request to have John Africa to step in.
Abu-Jamal was ultimately sentenced to death by the decision of the jury. Amnesty International objected this introduction from the prosecution team due to Abu-Jamal’s time when he was an activist in his younger years.
It was also protested that there was much documented current history on the Philadelphia police department corruption and abuse including the use of excessive force and fabricated evidence. Amnesty International even stated that the proceedings they used to convicted and even sentence Abu-Jamal were in direct violation of the minimum international standards that make up the fair trial procedures.
Death Penalty Dropped
Then on December 7, 2011, Seth Williams, the District Attorney of Philadelphia stated that the prosecutors, along with the backing of Faulkner’s family no longer want the death penalty in the case of Abu-Jamal. Instead, they would like to change the sentence from the death penalty to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This sentence was officially reaffirmed on July 9, 2013 by the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
After a high emotional press conference, Mauren Faulkner, Faulkner’s wife stated that she did not want to endure another trial and the trauma that stems from it. She stated that she understood how difficult it was to come to this decision, but it was for the best. Mauren also stated that she believed that the death penalty should only be reserved for unrepentant murderers and child molesters and that Abu-Jamal will have to stand before his maker one day and that was good enough for her.