Guest Author - Donna Johnson
After Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia policeman, he was sentenced to death. In 1989, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied his appeal as well as refusing to rehear the case. The case then went to the United States Supreme Court, which also denied the petitions put forth by Abu-Jamal, leaving the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania free to move forward with execution.
Tom Ridge, then Governor of Pennsylvania, signed the first death warrant for Abu-Jamal in 1995. The execution was put on hold pending testimony from new witnesses in the case, including William Harmon, who stated that the man who killed Faulkner fled the murder scene by car. This would seem to exclude Abu-Jamal as the killer, as he himself lay wounded at the scene when paramedics and police arrived. Harmonís past convictions for theft by deception, forgery, and fraud called his credibility into question, however. The court also dismissed the testimony of William Singletary, who claimed the shooter was a passenger in the car pulled over by Faulkner, citing discrepancies in his account.
The United States Supreme Court again denied all claims made by Abu-Jamal in 1999, and a death warrant was once again signed by Governor Ridge. This execution date was also delayed during Abu-Jamalís bid for a federal habeas corpus review. The same year, Arnold Beverly came forward to confess that he killed Faulkner while acting as a hitman for corrupt Philadelphia police officers that felt the young officer interfered with payoffs and other illegal activities. Senior attorneys advised Abu-Jamal to refrain from presenting Beverlyís testimony, as no witnesses placed him at the scene and his story was not credible.
Other problems encountered by the defense team during the habeas corpus review included the disappearance of witness Cynthia White. White was the only witness to place the taxi driven by Robert Chobert, a prosecution witness, at the scene in some of her accounts but not in others. She could not be called to explain the discrepancies in her stories, and in fact, the state of New Jersey had declared her legally dead in 1992. Other witnesses, including Priscilla Durham, were also said to have falsified their testimony at Abu-Jamalís original trial. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that too much time had passed to allow an appeal based on possible perjury.
In 2001, the defense won a small victory when US District Court Judge William H. Yohn Jr. vacated Abu-Jamalís death sentence. He did not overturn the conviction, but ordered resentencing based on confusing jury instructions that could have led to improper application of federal law during sentencing. The Commonwealth fought to reinstate the death sentence, dismissing Abu-Jamalís claims of a racially-biased jury and judge, stating that the defendant made no such objections during jury selection or the trial. On April 26, 2011, the decision to vacate the death penalty was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams announced on December 7, 2011, just two days shy of the 30th anniversary of the murder, that the Commonwealth would no longer fight to obtain the death penalty for Abu-Jamal. Williams cited the lack of witness availability after such a long time as a factor in the decision. Maureen Faulkner, the officerís widow, agreed to give up her fight for the execution due to the length of the case, but vowed to fight to ensure that Abu-Jamal received no special treatment after his removal from Death Row. Abu-Jamal will now serve a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole.