One Problem in Abu-Jamal Crusade: He's Guilty
Los Angeles Times
Friday, December 21, 2001
Maureen Faulkner moved across the country after her husband was
shot and killed on a downtown Philadelphia street 20 years ago
this month. In Camarillo, she made new friends, started a new
job and tried to build a new life.
But the old one keeps chasing after her.
Faulkner's late husband, Danny, was a cop. The man who killed
him, Mumia Abu-Jamal, has become an international celebrity and
a symbol of everything that's wrong with the American judicial
system. This week, after years of appeals, a federal judge in
Philadelphia affirmed the 1982 murder conviction but threw out
the death sentence. He ordered that Abu-Jamal either be kept in
prison for life or be given a new sentencing hearing.
Maureen Faulkner, who manages a medical office in Camarillo, has
been a wreck since the news. The other night, just after dozing
off, she bolted up, gasping for air.
"I jumped out of bed and couldn't catch my breath, and the
reality hit. Oh, my God! I'm going to have to go back to that
courtroom and go through this again."
Having lived and worked in Philadelphia for about 12 years, I
happen to know a few things about the murder of Officer Danny
Faulkner. I've talked to the prosecutors and to Abu-Jamal
attorneys, read the transcripts, studied the appeals and visited
the scene of the murder.
And without qualification, hesitation or a shadow of a doubt, I
can tell you this:
Mumia Abu-Jamal is guiltier than O.J.
On Dec. 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner made a traffic stop on
Abu-Jamal's brother, Billy Cook, who put up a fight. Abu-Jamal
happened upon the scene, and shooting began. Faulkner ended up
dead, and Abu-Jamal was shot in the chest.
A gun registered to Abu-Jamal, with five chambers empty, was on
the sidewalk. Four witnesses who saw all or part of the shooting
implicated Abu-Jamal. One witness said that after Faulkner went
down, Abu-Jamal stood over him and sealed the deal with a bullet
through the head.
And yet an international crusade to free Mumia--fueled by
endorsements from Hollywood celebrities including Susan
Sarandon, Paul Newman, Ossie Davis, Ed Asner, Tim Robbins and
Alec Baldwin--has had people marching in the streets from Africa
to Asia and beyond.
I've seen "Free Mumia" posters and T-shirts in Canada and
Greece. Twenty-two members of the British Parliament called for
a new trial, and this month the Paris City Council made
Abu-Jamal its first honorary citizen in 30 years. The last was
These people believe with all their heart, and very little of
their head, that Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner who was
framed, scapegoated and railroaded by a racist police force and
a hanging judge.
It's true that the 1982 trial was a circus, but that's because
Abu-Jamal wanted it to be. His own attorney told me that
Abu-Jamal, a Black Panther, considered himself a revolutionary
and didn't want a legal defense. He wanted to make a political
statement. At times, Abu-Jamal was removed from the courtroom
because of his outbursts.
When I lived in Philadelphia, I couldn't begin to make sense of
the Abu-Jamal juggernaut until I got a call one day from Los
The caller told me he worked in entertainment and had been
handed a petition demanding a new trial for Abu-Jamal. Everyone
in his office was happily signing up, but he wanted to know more
before jumping on the wagon, and someone suggested he call me.
He read me a list of claims about coerced witnesses, suppressed
evidence, fabricated evidence and dark conspiracies. And then I
understood the Abu-Jamal fever and accompanying dementia.
While there was a grain of truth to some of the claims, many
were simplifications, exaggerations or outright lies. For
instance, Abu-Jamal supporters scream that a .44-caliber bullet
was removed from Faulkner's body but that Abu-Jamal had a .38.
In fact, that claim has been debunked by the defense team's own
Mumia supporters, who tend to work themselves into a lather,
have foamed at me for years, and I think I know why I make them
I believe there's an unconscionable history of police brutality
and frame jobs on minorities in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and
the rest of the country.
I believe the death penalty is so disproportionately applied to
minorities without adequate legal representation, it ought to be
And yet I refuse to buy into their political claptrap and help
them make a martyr of Abu-Jamal, who shot Danny Faulkner in cold
blood and watched him die.
Had Abu-Jamal argued that it was a matter of self-defense, I
might have thought differently. But he didn't. For 20 years, in
fact, he said absolutely nothing about what happened. You'd
think that might set off a few alarms among breathless
supporters, but not a chance.
In the absence of an explanation from Abu-Jamal, Hollywood
celebrities, racially motivated apologists and other misguided
opportunists created their own, pitching half-baked conspiracies
and cockamamie tales of mystery killers fleeing the scene.
But here's the topper:
For 20 years, Abu-Jamal's own brother Billy, who was at the
scene of the crime, never uttered a word in his defense. What
kind of sap buys into Abu-Jamal's innocence when his own flesh
and blood lets him stew on death row?
Earlier this year, Abu-Jamal's latest defense team broke the big
news that Faulkner was killed by a Mafia hit man, a scenario so
ridiculous that the previous attorneys kept it quiet to avoid
embarrassment. And Billy Cook finally broke his silence with the
blockbuster report that an unnamed acquaintance of his did the
These were the developments that apparently inspired Parisians
to elevate Abu-Jamal into the realm of Picasso.
This week, when the federal judge ruled that jurors were
improperly instructed in the penalty phase of the 1982 trial,
neither side was happy.
Abu-Jamal supporters had wanted the judge to throw out the
conviction altogether, prosecutors wanted the death sentence to
stick, and both sides plan to appeal.
And so it drags on for Maureen Faulkner, who was just 24 when
this nightmare began, and wishes the federal judge would have
left things as they were.
In past court appearances, she has been spat upon and cursed by
Abu-Jamal supporters, for no reason other than her unwavering
belief in justice for her husband's killer.
"Now I'll probably have to relive the whole thing once more,"
she says. "I'll have to hear Mumia supporters screaming at me
and pointing their fingers like they're shooting at me. It's
been over 20 years now. Is there any regard for the survivors of
Steve Lopez writes Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org