Mumia finds safety in numbers

Posted: Dec 21, 2001 12:00 AM
Convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal's motto should be: If at first you don't succeed, keep filing appeals. It doesn't matter if you make patently false claims or assertions with no factual basis. It's a matter of numbers. Keep throwing stuff at the courts; eventually, a soft-touch judge will come along. Witness U.S. District Judge William Yohn's decision to uphold Abu-Jamal's conviction, but overturn the death penalty, pending a new sentencing trial. In 1982, a jury found Abu-Jamal guilty of the 1981 shooting of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, 25. Faulkner was shot five times, once between the eyes. Faulkner had pulled over Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, for driving the wrong way on a one-way street. Abu-Jamal saw what was happening from across the street. He shot Faulkner. Faulkner shot back. Police found Faulkner fatally wounded and Abu-Jamal, with a bullet wound in his chest and his .38-caliber handgun, with five spent shell casings. Four eyewitnesses testified at the trial. A jury sentenced him to death. Groupies of the former Black Panther -- many in the Bay Area -- who believe he is an innocent victim of a racist prosecution should read Yohn's 272-page decision, because, oddly, Yohn makes a slam-dunk case of refuting the Free-Mumia crowd's fantastic claims. The defense team has tried to impugn prosecution witnesses while claiming other witnesses would exonerate Abu-Jamal. Yohn, however, notes that their testimony was either not exculpatory or not credible. (As in the witness who claimed that Faulkner spoke and fired his gun after being shot in the face with a bullet -- which experts deemed "medically impossible.") As Philly District Attorney Lynne Abraham noted in a statement Tuesday, Abu- Jamal "never produced his own brother, who was present at the time of the murder, (yet) he has offered up various individuals who would claim that one trial witness or another must have lied; or that some other individual has only recently been discovered who has special knowledge about the murder; or that someone has fallen out of the skies, who is supposedly willing to confess to the murder of Officer Faulkner." The last reference was to a man who says he was hired by the mob to kill Faulkner -- which even Abu-Jamal's former defense team finds incredible. David Elliot of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty finds Yohn's decision "bittersweet" because it does not call for new evidentiary hearings. Elliot faulted the "original lawyers." When I mentioned Abu-Jamal was his own lawyer, Elliot questioned Abu-Jamal's qualifications. And Abu-Jamal's backup counsel had tried some 20 first-degree murder cases; only six were convicted, with none sentenced to death. Faulkner's widow, Maureen, has every reason to fume. Yohn threw out the death penalty because jury instructions did not adhere to a 1997 interpretation of a federal appellate ruling in 1988. As Abraham complained, no trial judge or prosecutor "could have known of some new rule that would not even be announced by the federal circuit court until over a decade and a half later." No doubt many readers believe Abraham should not appeal, if only to save money. Wrong. As spokeswoman Cathie Abookire noted, "Every crime victim deserves to know without a doubt that their case will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and we're not going to just say never mind." Or as a pro-Mumia website boasts: "Think of how the people will be emboldened to fight back when Mumia walks free." If a lone judge can overturn a 20-year sentence based on a technicality that didn't exist in 1982, what's to stop another judge from throwing out the guilty verdict?