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The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal
By J. Patrick O'Connor
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2008 J. Patrick O'Connor
All rights reserved.
December 9, 1981
The early morning hours of December 9, 1981, were bitter cold, the temperature dropping to nine degrees Fahrenheit. It had been a busy evening for Abu-Jamal. He had had dinner with radio reporter E. Steven Collins, a friend since childhood, and then–state representative Milton Street, at Collins's house. From there, he told Terry Bisson, author of the biography On a Move: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal, he drove to his wife Wadiya's house in southwest Philadelphia and helped her put her children to bed before leaving in the United taxi he moonlighted in at about midnight. Because he had been robbed at gunpoint twice while driving the cab, Abu-Jamal now carried a short-barreled Charter Arms .38 for protection.
Officer Daniel Faulkner was only twenty-five but had already spent five years on the Philadelphia police force. The youngest of seven siblings, he was born in southwest Philadelphia. His father, a railroad worker, died of a heart attack five years later. A biographical sketch on the Web site www.danielfaulkner.com states that Faulkner dropped out of high school to join the army and while serving obtained his GED as well as an associate's degree in criminal justice. He began his law enforcement career as a corrections officer and then joined the Philadelphia Police Department in late 1975. He married for a second time in fall 1979.
By all accounts, Faulkner was a conscientious, dedicated police officer with a bright future ahead of him. His long-term ambition, according to the Web site, was to become a prosecutor in the Philadelphia D.A.'s Office. At the time of his death, he was enrolled in a bachelor's program in criminal justice, in preparation for attending law school.
Faulkner usually worked with a partner, his best friend on the police force, Garry Bell. But owing to understaffing, he would work this night alone. He normally wore a bulletproof vest, but this night, a little pressed for time, he dressed in his uniform at home while his vest hung in his locker at the precinct. His wife, Maureen, told him to make sure to go get his vest. But Faulkner was busy and never got around to it. Sometime around 1:30 A.M. he was assigned a rape case, arresting the suspect and then driving the seven-year-old black victim to Jefferson University Hospital for treatment.
Around 3:55 A.M. Faulkner spotted Billy Cook, Abu-Jamal's twenty-five-year-old younger brother, in a battered blue Volkswagen with a wooden bumper, its license tag dangling in the rear. Faulkner turned on his red bubble light and pulled the VW over at the corner of 13th and Locust just behind a Ford parked there. Faulkner positioned his marked police car right behind the VW on the south side of Locust Street, a car-length east of the intersection with 13th Street. The intersection was the hub of a seedy nightspot section of downtown Philadelphia notorious for its prostitutes and drug users. The bars were in the process of closing, so a number of people were in the immediate area. Some taxis, including Abu-Jamal's, were waiting for fares.
That Faulkner knew Billy Cook and recognized him is a probability supported by Faulkner's own radio message to the police dispatcher before he got out of his patrol car to approach the VW. At first, Faulkner radioed for backup, but then he changed his mind and said, "On second thought, send me a wagon," meaning, according to police testimony at trial, that he had a prisoner and was planning to bring him in. Faulkner's request for a wagon could have also meant that there was more than one person in Cook's car. Although the prosecution estimated that Billy Cook, a down-on-his-luck street vendor with a drug problem, had up to $1,000 in outstanding parking tickets, Faulkner did not run a check of the VW's license plate.
Abu-Jamal's court-appointed defense counsel, Anthony E. Jackson, told a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter three days after Abu-Jamal was sentenced, "I'm reasonably convinced that they [Faulkner and Billy Cook] had some prior contact — once or twice before." Jackson said at one point during his investigation of Faulkner's slaying that he was shown a statement by a police officer who stated that Faulkner had spotted Billy Cook selling drugs in Center City some weeks before the incident but had lost him during a chase. Jackson said that Faulkner had told the officer that if he saw Cook again, he would arrest him. Thus, no license-plate check, thus the call for the wagon. (Cook would later deny ever previously meeting Faulkner.)
It is not clear what happened after Faulkner reached the VW, but it appears the officer first approached the passenger side — in a 2001 affidavit, Billy Cook would identify his street-vendor partner, Kenneth Freeman, as the passenger in the VW — and asked to see the passenger's identification. It would not become known until Abu-Jamal's postconviction hearing in 1995 that a duplicate license application bearing the name Arnold Howard was found in Faulkner's shirt pocket. Although the prosecution had included the license application in the evidence list it provided to Abu-Jamal's trial attorney, it did not inform the defense that it was found in Faulkner's pocket. Had it done so, the possibility of a shooter other than Abu-Jamal would have been material, particularly coupled with all the eyewitness testimony that one or more black men were seen fleeing the scene immediately after Faulkner was shot.
Homicide detectives thought enough of the license application's significance at the time to immediately send two detectives and several police to Howard's house before daybreak to bring him in for questioning. At Abu-Jamal's postconviction hearing, Howard testified that he was handcuffed and "still in his drawers" when hustled off to the Police Administration Building for questioning about Faulkner's murder. He testified that the homicide detectives held him without charges for the maximum seventy-two hours allowed, grilling him relentlessly, subjecting him to a trace metal test to determine if he had recently fired a gun. Either because Howard told investigators that he had given the duplicate license application to Freeman or because the police knew that Freeman was a passenger in the VW who had fled the scene, they also brought Freeman in for questioning hours after the shooting and put both him and Howard in several lineups.
Howard, a friend since childhood of both Abu-Jamal and Billy Cook, also testified at the PCRA hearing that Freeman kept getting singled out at the lineups. Howard informed the court that Freeman told him that the prosecution's star witness, prostitute Cynthia White, had picked him out twice. Howard said that he himself was finally released because he was able to produce a receipt from a convenience store in another part of the city where he had made a purchase at about the time Faulkner was killed.
Abu-Jamal happened to be directly across the street from where Faulkner had pulled Billy Cook over, sitting in his cab in a parking lot while making entries in his logbook and awaiting his next fare. The only credible eyewitness the prosecution chose to produce at trial, Michael Mark Scanlan, said he saw a man run across the street from the parking lot but saw no gun in his hand as he ran and the first shot rang out. Scanlan told police that the man he saw running toward Faulkner from the parking lot had an Afro and was wearing a black knit hat. Abu-Jamal wore his hair in dreadlocks and had on a green beret. When the police brought Scanlan to the paddy wagon to identify Abu-Jamal as the man he saw running toward Faulkner from parking lot — that is, as the shooter — Scanlan indicated he believed Abu-Jamal was the driver of the VW. At trial, he reiterated that he could not identify Abu-Jamal as the shooter but could identify him as the man running from the parking lot because of the clothing he wore.
The truth of the Faulkner shooting is buried in what happened during the one or two minutes after Faulkner pulled Cook over and got out of his patrol car to approach the VW. Scanlan, who was stopped at a traffic light at the intersection of 13th and Locust, was about forty feet away from where Faulkner pulled over the VW. Scanlan testified that he saw the police officer and the black driver of the VW in conversation as the latter was spread-eagled over the front of the police car. Scanlan said he saw the black man swing around and strike the police officer in the face with his fist. He then saw the officer react by hitting the black man two or three times in succession on the shoulders with a blackjack or a flashlight, the blows causing the black man's knees to buckle and the black man to duck down.
Cook's account of the scene adds some detail that Scanlan failed to observe. After being pulled over, Cook said, he got out of the VW and a heated verbal exchange ensued. He said Faulkner hit him three times in the back of his head with a flashlight, pushing him into the side of the police car and frisking him. Cook denies hitting Faulkner, saying he raised his hand only to ward off Faulkner's volley of blows. Cook said he was bleeding profusely as he got back into the driver's seat to look for his car's registration papers in the back seat. He said Kenneth Freeman was still in the car when he got in. Faulkner was now standing in front of the VW. When Cook first saw his brother, Abu-Jamal was just feet away from him, running toward him. Cook said Abu-Jamal had nothing in his hands. He heard a shot and saw his brother stumbling forward. Cook said he next noticed that the passenger door to his car was open and Kenneth Freeman had exited the car. Cook then heard more shots and saw sparks but did not see who shot Faulkner, because his back was to him. Cook said Freeman then fled the scene.
Abu-Jamal's account, as rendered in his own 2001 affidavit, picks up right after Faulkner had pummeled Cook with the flashlight. While parked across the street from where his brother had been pulled over, Abu-Jamal heard what sounded to him like gunshots. He said he looked into the rearview mirror and saw people running up and down Locust.
As I scanned I recognized my brother standing in the street staggering and dizzy. ... I immediately exited the cab and ran to his scream. ... As I came across the street I saw a uniformed cop turn toward me gun in hand, saw a flash and went down to my knees. ... I closed my eyes and sat still trying to breathe. ... The next thing that I remember I felt myself being kicked, hit and being brought out of a stupor.
Kenneth Freeman is the wild card in this speculation, but he and an eyewitness the prosecution did not call to testify are the keys to everything about this case. Freeman was still sitting in the passenger seat of the VW when Cook, blood trickling down his neck, got back into the VW to look for his car's registration papers. Freeman, a hardscrabble U.S. Army veteran, saw Abu-Jamal running toward the VW, being shot point-blank range in the chest by Faulkner, and collapsing to the ground. Freeman got out of the VW.
At this point, Robert Harkins, a forty-two-year-old cabdriver, was driving east on Locust Street and approaching 13th Street. He saw Faulkner grab a man and watched as they scuffled. The man spun Faulkner around and threw him to the ground on his hands and knees, Faulkner's back now facing the man. As Faulkner tried to regain his balance, the assailant, from a foot or less away, shot him in the back, the bullet exiting his neck and knocking off his clip-on tie. Faulkner then rolled over onto his back. The assailant, again from a foot or less away, then fired two more shots directly at Faulkner's face, one apparently going through the collar of Faulkner's jacket, the other — fired execution style — hitting him in the right-hand corner of his left eye, killing him instantly.
Harkins's account of the shooting is supported by two important bits of physical evidence. Faulkner's pants were ripped at the knee, and his left knee bore a two-inch-wide, three-quarter-inch-high superficial skin denudation, indicating he had fallen down face first onto his hands and knees just as Harkins described. In the prosecution scenario, Faulkner fell down backward and while falling somehow managed to get off the shot that wounded Abu-Jamal in the chest.
Harkins said that as soon as he saw the officer shot in the face, he began fearing for his own life and immediately drove away to look for police to tell about the shooting. Within a block, Harkins came upon a police van and informed the two officers in it that a cop had been shot. Harkins did not return to the scene.
With Faulkner dead, a blacked-out Abu-Jamal was left to answer for his murder. Cook, to his credit, stayed behind.
Various witnesses said they saw a black man running from the scene right after the shooting, just as Cook said Freeman had done after Faulkner was shot. Some of the eyewitnesses said this man had an Afro and wore a green army jacket. Freeman did have an Afro, and the green army jacket he perpetually wore was his badge of honor from his days in the military. Michael Scanlan told police he thought the shooter had an Afro, as did another prosecution witness, cabdriver Robert Chobert.
About two hours later police brought Harkins to the station to take his statement. The framing of Abu-Jamal for Faulkner's killing was in high gear by the time Harkins arrived. The statement he gave was not at all what they wanted to hear.
On 12-9-81 between 3:30 A.M. and 4 A.M. while traveling east on Locust Street from Broad Street, I was approaching 13th Street when I observed a police car with its dome lights on. And then I looked over and observed a police officer grab a guy. The guy then spun around and the officer went to the ground. [The officer] had his hands on the ground and then rolled over. At this time the male who was standing over the officer pointed a gun at the officer and fired one shot and then he fired a second shot. At this time the officer moved a little and then flat to the ground. I heard a total of three shots and saw what appeared to me to be three flashes from the gun of the man standing over the officer. When I saw the officer go flat to the ground I drove down the street and at 12th and Locust Streets I saw a police wagon which was traveling south on 12th Street and I told them that a cop got shot back there, and one of the officers, the passenger, said, "A cop"? and I said, "Yes, a cop."
Eight days later, Harkins gave a subsequent interview to a homicide detective.
I was coming across the intersection of 13th Street on Locust when I saw the lights on the police car and I noticed the officer on the sidewalk. A guy grabbed him [Faulkner] and spun him around. He grabbed him with this hand and spun him and he went down (indicating the male spun the officer around with his right hand. Then stood over the officer who was on his hands.) The man stood right over the officer and shot him three times. I could see the flashes and hear the pops. It was like hearing a cap pistol. The officer turned over on his back and his leg went out straight. I think his right leg.
Q. Can you tell me how this man was dressed, the man that shot the officer?
A. The clothing didn't appear too dark and it wasn't light.
Q. Can you tell me about how tall this male was?
A. He was a little taller than the officer, heavier than the officer and he may have had a beard.
Q. Did you see another man on the sidewalk besides the officer and the shooter?
A. There was nobody in front of me.
Q. How many shots did you hear?
A. Three rapid like.
Harkins's description of the shooter, as being a little taller and heavier than the six-feet-one, 200-pound Faulkner, points directly to the burly Freeman, who was slightly taller than Faulkner and weighed about 225 pounds, the approximate weight another prosecution witness, Chobert, attributed to the shooter. It also excludes both Abu-Jamal and his brother, Billy Cook, from being the shooter. Abu-Jamal was about as tall as Faulkner but weighed a lean 170 pounds, and Cook, at five feet six inches in height, weighed less than 150 pounds. Both Abu-Jamal and Cook wore their hair in dreadlocks, while the shooter, according to both Scanlan and Chobert, had an Afro hairstyle.
Until Faulkner began clubbing Cook with his flashlight, there was little reason for any of the bystanders to focus on what appeared to be a routine traffic stop. None, for example, had noticed that Faulkner had placed some driver identification papers in his pocket — papers that Freeman had borrowed recently from Arnold Howard — before the situation began to get out of hand. (Scanlan did observe Faulkner, during his interaction with Cook, looking at some type of document.) As Faulkner began hitting Cook, the scene developed some interest. For those who were watching, Abu-Jamal soon became the focal point as he rushed across the street toward Faulkner. Scanlan, for one, assumed that the man running across the street must have been the one who shot Faulkner, although he admitted that he saw no flash coming from the running man as the first shot rang out and that the shooter he did observe had an Afro.
Excerpted from The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal by J. Patrick O'Connor. Copyright © 2008 J. Patrick O'Connor. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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