Executing Justice: An Inside Account of the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Executing Justice: An Inside Account of the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal

by Daniel R. Williams

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Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist and author of three well-received books and many essays. He is also a death-row inmate, awaiting execution in Pennsylvania for allegedly killing a police officer in 1981. For many around the world, he is an inspired leader and the centerpiece to a revived progressive movement critical of our justice system and

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Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist and author of three well-received books and many essays. He is also a death-row inmate, awaiting execution in Pennsylvania for allegedly killing a police officer in 1981. For many around the world, he is an inspired leader and the centerpiece to a revived progressive movement critical of our justice system and escalating global economic inequities. For others, he is a cold-blooded killer who has duped millions, including a vast array of Hollywood celebrities, writers, intellectuals and world political leaders, into believing that he is a political prisoner falsely imprisoned. Whatever the outlook, he and his case have become a flashpoint in the ever-raging debate over capital punishment in this country and a symbol of what is wrong with our criminal justice system.

Here, for the first time, the story of Mumia Abu-Jamal's trial and his struggle to gain his freedom has been told. Executing Justice takes us inside the courtroom where a fierce and skilled prosecutor wove a damning narrative of a young black radical who brutally murdered a young white police officer in the red-light district of Philadelphia, and then later boasted about the killing. It was, the prosecutor said, the strongest murder case he's ever tried. Daniel R. Williams, defense lawyer and chief legal strategist for Mumia Abu-Jamal, invites us to ask: why has this case engendered such enormous attention and aroused the passions of people worldwide?

Executing Justice is the story of how the death penalty really works in this country—not from the perspective of appellate judges, academics, or politicians who pontificate about the pros and cons of capital punishment, but from ground zero, within the pit of the courtroom where the war over life and death is fought. It is also a story of one of the most remarkable trials in our history. Above all, Executing Justice is an honest, at times confessional, book that seeks not to preach, but to raise questions about what we expect from our legal system and the depth of our commitment to capital punishment as a form of executing justice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Despite the deluge of books about the sensational murder case of activist-journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, none is as comprehensive or as forthcoming about the tangle of legal maneuvers and missteps in his controversial trial as this one is. Williams, the death row inmate's defense lawyer and chief case strategist, offers a slew of previously unrevealed details about the lengthy battle to appeal Abu-Jamal's 1982 conviction for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman. After an impassioned foreword by E.L. Doctorow, the book embarks upon a relentless analysis of the facts of the case that has captured international attention and drawn widespread support. Williams attacks the Pennsylvania courts' refusal to grant an appeal by systematically picking apart the testimony of the prosecution's key witnesses a former prostitute, a young white man on probation and two eyewitnesses who could not positively identify Mumia as the shooter. Williams confronts what he sees as "irregularities" in the convicted prisoner's supposed confession, as well as in the ballistics and medical evidence. His measured and detailed discussion also puts the case into the broader legal context of Philadelphia politics during the civil rights era and racial biases in death penalty litigation in America, pointing out shortcomings in the jury selection process, for example. Possibly most startling is Williams's careful chronicle of Abu-Jamal's trial and ensuing appeals, which provides a far more thorough view of the proceedings than previous accounts. While no one opposed to Mumia' s radical beliefs will be completely swayed by this book's findings, Williams's terse and lengthy arguments raise intriguing questions about how justice has been served in this high-profile case and should challenge many readers' preconceptions. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Once again, the venom of hatred and
disdain for the law enforcement profession
has vented its ugly anger on one of
Philadelphia's finest.

Statement by the Philadelphia
Chapter of the Fraternal
Order of Police, December 9, 1981


* A body in a blue police uniform lay still on the sidewalk. A few feet away, slouched on the curb near the front bumper of a parked car, was a black man with dreadlocks, bleeding with a gunshot wound to his chest, his right arm stretched across his torso, his legs protruding into the street but lazily bent at the knees, his whole body listless. An empty .38 revolver with a two-inch muzzle was just beyond his reach to his left. The body in the blue uniform had belonged to twenty-five-year-old police officer Daniel Faulkner, or just plain Danny, as his friends and family knew him.

    Earlier that morning, on December 9, 1981, a minute or two shy of 4:00 A.M., someone fired a bullet into Officer Faulkner, striking him between the eyes as he lay helpless on the cold pavement. For some, the crime never was a mystery. The twenty-seven-year-old dreadlocked black man, Mumia Abu-Jamal, found at the crime scene wearing a gun holster and sitting on the curb within inches of the alleged murder weapon, was not simply an obvious suspect; he seemed to be the only one who could have committed the crime. But for others who knew the young and talented journalist, the de facto spokesperson for Philadelphia's disenfranchised minorities, it was incomprehensible that Mumia—that is what most people called him, just Mumia—would even be capable of perpetrating such a monstrous act. The crime was more than just a murder mystery; it was an opportunity to silence the man people had begun to dub the voice of the voiceless.

* Thirteenth and Locust Street was, at the time of this crime, part of Philadelphia's red-light district, a neighborhood that came alive after midnight with prostitutes, lost souls, and nighttime carousers. At 3:54 A.M., patrol car 612, with its twirling red dome light, was parked at a curb on Locust Street about a quarter of a block east of the Thirteenth Street intersection. An old beat-up blue Volkswagen, license plate dangling, was parked at the curb in front of the police car, in full view of Officer Faulkner as he sat peering through the windshield, the hand-held police radio up near his mouth. Two cars on a city street, one suggesting disorderliness situated in front of another that spoke bluntly of "law and order." By the looks of it, Officer Faulkner was in the midst of an ordinary traffic stop.

    The central dispatcher heard Officer Faulkner's routine notification over the police radio—"This is patrol six-twelve. I have a car stopped at Twelfth, uh, Thirteenth and Locust"—and dutifully put out the call for a backup. Officer Faulkner was about to step out when he looked around to gauge what risks were involved. He didn't have a partner cruising patrol with him, so he was particularly cautious about his actions. Something—it is unclear what—told him that a backup unit was not enough. He contacted central dispatch again.

    Officer Faulkner, tall with dark hair and eyes and a slap-your-back friendly disposition, was five years into his work as a Philadelphia police officer. He had joined the force after a brief stint in the army upon graduating high school. He left his modest row house in the Eastwick section of southwest Philadelphia to begin his night shift at 11:30 P.M., after having spent some time at his dining room table paying bills. His house was in the midst of renovations and the bills were mounting. Money was tight, but he and his young wife, Maureen, didn't have any children—not yet, at least. Maureen knew that when they did, Danny would be a good father. She could tell by the way he loved to play baseball with the neighborhood kids during the summer. But why rush? They were still young and happy to enjoy life alone together for a while. They had a ski trip lined up for after Christmas, and a cruise to Bermuda in the spring.

    One of seven children born into a working-class family, Faulkner was going to celebrate his twenty-sixth birthday on December 21, twelve days away. He was planning on taking the detectives exam over the upcoming weekend and was confident he would score well. He seemed to have a knack for police exams and had a penchant for discipline. He was proud of the fact that he had finished second in his class at the police academy. He was also intent on finishing up the last few credits for his associates degree at Philadelphia Community College. It wouldn't be exactly right to say that Danny Faulkner was ambitious. His life had always been lived on a small canvas. It's just that he was committed to making the most of it. Maureen loved that about him.

    It was approaching 4:00 A.M., and Officer Faulkner spoke into the radio for the last time. He usually wore a bulletproof vest underneath his perfectly pressed uniform, but Maureen noticed that he hadn't put it on that night. Strange, she thought momentarily, before falling asleep. "On second thought, send me a wagon at Thirteenth and Locust," Faulkner muttered quickly. The request for a "wagon" meant he was intent on making an arrest, and he didn't want to be alone—not at this hour of the night, and not in this part of town.

    Officer Faulkner stepped out of the patrol car, scanned the area again, and put his hat on. No one would have faulted him if he hadn't put his hat on. Many, maybe even most, Philadelphia patrol officers, deep into their night shift, dispense with the formality. But not Officer Faulkner. He insisted on the hat, just as much as he insisted on polished shoes and a pressed uniform.

    Danny Faulkner had less than two minutes left in his life. Soon he would be lying face up on that cold, dingy pavement, lifeless, with a bullet in his brain.

* It didn't take long for Locust Street to be bristling with activity. The night had been punctured with short, crackling, violent bursts of sound. Those who heard the crisp explosions—was it four, maybe five jolts of sound? bystanders just couldn't seem to remember—knew instantly it was gunfire. Homicide detectives, crime scene investigators, patrol officers, police photographers, curious onlookers, and several witnesses to various aspects of the "incident," hovered around the bloodstained asphalt. The dead police officer, found lying on the sidewalk, was immediately taken away to nearby Jefferson University Hospital, with the hope that somehow he could be revived. It wasn't until all the commotion died down that someone picked up Faulkner's hat from the street. The hat, unlike everything else, was still in perfect condition—and it remained so for a jury to see seven months later.

    Mumia Abu-Jamal, too, was taken to Jefferson University Hospital, but not before, according to court witnesses, his head was rammed into a light pole and his body kicked and punched by infuriated police officers summoned to the scene. Mumia could never have guessed that the evening would devolve into this. He had had an enjoyable dinner with friends, among them a journalism colleague and a local politician, before getting into his cab to earn some badly needed money. His journalism career was at a crossroads, and he was moonlighting as a cab driver to support himself and his wife and children while trying to reassert—perhaps rediscover—his identity as a journalist. Some reporters on the city hall beat had been whispering that Mumia's marriage was on the skids and that he had begun to lose his objectivity as a reporter. But now, his entire life was derailed, as he lay on the hospital bed, handcuffed to the railing, looking up at his older sister, Lydia.

    Mumia had refused medical treatment when the police, as they put it, "deposited" him on the emergency room floor. When family members appeared at the hospital, they urged him to accept treatment while trying, amidst the bedlam, to grasp what had happened. Mumia finally agreed. Emergency room surgeons operated for two and a half hours to repair damage caused by a bullet later discovered to have been discharged from Officer Faulkner's police-issued revolver. The police simply "knew" that Mumia had shot the officer. But how had Mumia been shot? None of the witnesses on the scene could say.

    The question of how Mumia had been shot—at what point during the few seconds of the incident—would be a mystery that would plague the entire case, and in the end, may hold the key to his exoneration.

    Lydia was with him when the anesthesia wore off. Mumia motioned for her to come nearer. His voice had always bespoken his strength, even in childhood; but now it was only a whisper. Come nearer, he gestured again. "I didn't have anything to do with it. I'm innocent." Lydia nodded and squeezed his hand.

    Maureen never had a chance to exchange whispered words with her husband at the Jefferson emergency room. Danny Faulkner was pronounced dead at about 5:00 A.M., but in reality, he died instantly once the bullet struck him between the eyes, penetrated his skull, and then obliterated his brain.

    The new mayor, William J. Green III, and other city dignitaries would come to the hospital later in the morning, designated by the Commonwealth to vent the city's anger over a senseless attack on that thin blue line that separates law from disorder. They would join Danny Faulkner's young widow at the hospital as she attempted to grasp what had happened.

    The president of Lodge No. 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police quickly issued a statement: "Once again, the venom of hatred and disdain for the law enforcement profession has vented its ugly anger on one of Philadelphia's finest." Mayor Green ordered the city to lower flags at half-staff for thirty days, as "Philly's finest" wore black ribbons on their badges. Faulkner was the second cop killed in the line of duty that year. More than five thousand people, including the mayor and virtually every municipal leader, turned out for the memorial service at St. Barnabas Roman Catholic Church in southwest Philadelphia. Even the voluble and controversial ex-mayor, Frank Rizzo, appeared, but remained uncharacteristically silent in the face of news cameras and a phalanx of journalists beckoning him to give one of his trademark invectives.

    Danny was supposed to go deer hunting the day he was buried, a friend of his reflected, eyes moistened with emotion as the two hundred cars in the motorcade passed by.

    For the next seven months, the killing of Officer Daniel Faulkner, and the life and times of the presumed killer, would be fixtures in the local papers and television news broadcasts. There would be much hand-wringing over how it could be that a gifted journalist, a passionate spokesperson for the poor, with no criminal past and a reputation as a gentle man, could find himself accused of such a vicious murder.

    In racially polarized Philadelphia in 1981, a black man with dreadlocks was immediately looked upon as an enemy of the police. Philadelphia was the home of the radical MOVE organization, a group evoking bemusement among many, but vitriol among police officers who still remembered a killing of one of their own in a police siege upon a MOVE compound in 1978. Mumia had been raising eyebrows for the past three years among journalism colleagues, the public, and the police, because of his outspoken support for MOVE members, whom he felt were the latest victims of police brutality in a city that Mayor Rizzo had nourished with police-state methods. Mumia had never kept to himself his affinity for MOVE's spiritually based back-to-nature tenets. It was obvious to the arriving police officers, even before an investigation was launched, that Mumia had vented his rage, which was MOVE's rage, against authority by mercilessly killing Officer Daniel Faulkner.

    There would be a trial. But for the police that night, a trial was nothing more than an unpleasant detour on the way to extracting the ultimate revenge for this malicious cop-killing. Executing justice was all that remained.

Excerpted from EXECUTING JUSTICE by DANIEL R. WILLIAMS. Copyright © 2001 by Daniel R. Williams. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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