The year 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the fatal shooting of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner. In the early morning hours of December 9, 1981, Faulkner noticed a car driving down a one-way street in the wrong direction. He pulled the vehicle, a light blue Volkswagen driven by William Cook, over. Cook’s brother, born Wesley Cook but known by the name Mumia Abu-Jamal for several years prior, happened to be parked across the street from the spot where the traffic stop occurred.
Abu-Jamal left his taxicab to see what was happening with Cook, according to one eyewitness account, after an altercation between Faulkner and Cook initiated when Cook punched the police officer in the face. The chain of events as described by the US Court of Appeals places the altercation outside of Cook’s vehicle, taking place as Faulkner attempted to handcuff Cook.
According to witnesses, as Abu-Jamal crossed the street, he drew a .38 caliber revolver and opened fire, striking Faulkner four times in the back. Faulkner pulled his own gun and returned fire, hitting Abu-Jamal in the chest. Although badly wounded, Abu-Jamal continued to advance on Faulkner, ending up standing directly over the officer. Abu-Jamal then shot Faulkner in the face before collapsing a short distance away, the revolver at his side.
Faulkner was pronounced dead on arrival at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Abu-Jamal was taken to the same hospital for treatment of his chest wound. Three witnesses at the hospital reported hearing Abu-Jamal confess to the shooting, saying, “I shot the motherf***er and I hope the motherf***er dies.” Although his wounds were serious, Abu-Jamal recovered and went on trial for first-degree murder on June 17, 1982.
The prosecution offered various witnesses to the altercation and shooting, such as Robert Chobert, a taxicab driver who saw the events unfold from behind Faulkner’s vehicle and Cynthia White, who witnessed the entire incident from a streetcorner approximately 30 feet away. Pedestrian Albert Magilton described Abu-Jamal’s approach with his arm held in a shooting position, but as Magilton then turned his head briefly, only hearing the shots, he could not testify as to who fired them. Other witnesses presented by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania included Priscilla Durham, a hospital security guard, and Gary Bell and Gary Wakschul, police officers, who testified about Abu-Jamal’s confession.
Prosecutors also presented physical evidence, including ballistics tests showing that the rounds recovered from Faulkner’s body were fired from Abu-Jamal’s gun. Expert Anthony A. Paul further testified that the bullets were not common at the time, having only one manufacturer. The bullet extracted from Abu-Jamal was also found to have come from the officer’s weapon.
After the Commonwealth presented its case, the defense took its turn, which will be covered in part two of this series.