At a dramatic press conference held on May 4 in front of the federal
courthouse in Philadelphia, two new attorneys for journalist and
longtime Pennsylvania Death Row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal announced
they were filing sworn statements in his pending habeas corpus appeal
concerning the 1981 slaying of police officer Daniel Faulkner. The
statements are by Abu-Jamal himself, his brother Billy Cook and
also by a man who claims he is Faulkner's real killer.
At the sparsely attended session, Chicago lawyer Marlene Kamish
and Los Angeles attorney Eliot Lee Grossman claimed that the new
witness, an African-American man named Arnold R. Beverly, would
exonerate Abu-Jamal by swearing that he and "another guy" had been
hired by the mob at the request of corrupt Philadelphia police to
execute Faulkner (who was said to be blowing the whistle on his
colleagues). Abu-Jamal only arrived at the scene of the shooting
after Faulkner was already dead, allegedly shot in the face by Beverly.
In a surprise move, the two attorneys also released an affidavit
signed by Abu-Jamal in
which he gave, for the first time, his own account of the incident,
saying, "I did not shoot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. I had nothing
to do with the killing of Officer Faulkner. I am innocent." Abu-Jamal
goes on to explain that he had been seated in his cab in a parking
lot across from the scene of the shooting, and only got out of his
car and crossed the street after hearing gunshots, seeing people running
and then seeing his brother in the street "staggering and dizzy."
Abu-Jamal says that as he was running across the street, he saw "a
uniformed cop turn toward me--gun in hand--saw a flash and went down
on my knees." He reports fading in and out of consciousness at that
point, making his memory hazy from the time he was shot.
Abu-Jamal had 30 days to
new lawyers after dismissing
his prior coulnsel in March.
A third affidavit released by the attorneys at the sidewalk news
conference was a statement by Cook, who had been driving a Volkswagen
stopped by Faulkner prior to the shooting incident. Cook, who until
now has avoided testifying in the case after initially being arrested
and charged with a felony assault on Faulkner, says in the sworn
statement that after Faulkner stopped his car and hit him, he returned
to his car to look for registration papers. At that point, Cook
says he heard shots. Looking up through the window, he saw his brother
running across the street. He claims he saw Abu-Jamal being shot
at that point.
Cook also claims that his friend and business partner Kenneth Freeman
had been in the car with him, and that Freeman, whom he says ran
from the scene, later told him about being in on the plot to kill
Faulkner. Freeman later died under suspicious circumstances while
in police custody.
The new conspiracy theory presented by Abu-Jamal and his new legal
team faces several hurdles. First of all, it is up to Judge William
H. Yohn Jr., an appointee of former President George Bush, to decide
whether or not to accept the new evidence. Yohn is currently deciding
whether to accede to Abu-Jamal's habeas corpus appeal of his murder
conviction and death sentence, and whether to grant him a new evidentiary
Second, if Beverly's statement is accepted by Yohn, lawyers familiar
with the case say Abu-Jamal will inevitably be asked to explain
why he and his former attorneys did not make use of the affidavit
back in June 1999, when it was first sworn. Dan Williams, Abu-Jamal's
former attorney, has explained in his new book Executing Justice:
An Inside Account of the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal--whose publication,
Abu-Jamal says, was the reason he fired both Williams and lead attorney
Leonard Weinglass in March--that the issue of whether to use the
Beverly statement was the reason Partisan Defense Committee attorneys
Rachel Wolkenstein and Jon Piper quit the defense team in 1999 (see
Defense," April 16).
As an active participant in his own defense, Abu-Jamal was as much
part of the decision not to use Beverly as were his two erstwhile
attorneys, Weinglass and Williams. Grossman tried to hint that perhaps
Abu-Jamal was unaware of the Beverly evidence, saying, in response
to one reporter's question, that he and Kamish had "found" the document
among the case files that Weinglass and Williams turned over to
Abu-Jamal and his new attorneys also opened the door to some other
troubling new issues when they claimed that Weinglass had told both
Abu-Jamal and his brother not to take the stand during the 1995
Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing. Since Weinglass told the court
on the record that he was expecting Cook to testify at that hearing,
the district attorney's office seems certain to call Weinglass to
the stand to testify about his statements to both Abu-Jamal and
Cook. The disclosure of purported conversations between Weinglass
and Abu-Jamal has shattered any attorney-client privilege that might
ordinarily have protected such communication, say lawyers familiar
with the case.
The Beverly statement, as well as the two new accounts sworn by
Abu-Jamal and his brother, also conflicts with the testimony of
a number of key defense and prosecution witnesses about the sequence
of events. Those earlier witnesses stated that they saw a man, or
Abu-Jamal, running across the street before they heard gunfire.
The new statements all have the gunfire occurring before Abu-Jamal
ran across Locust Street.
Cathie Abookire, a spokeswoman for Philadelphia District Attorney
Lynn Abraham, whose office is fighting Abu-Jamal's attempt to win
a new trial, characterized the Beverly affidavit as "so clearly
ridiculous that it should be obvious to any fair-minded person that
it is a complete fabrication." The district attorney's office has
apparently been leaking word to the mainstream media that Beverly
also offered himself as a witness to a dramatic Rodney King-style
police beating of a suspected black car thief last summer, suggesting
that he has a history of publicity-seeking behavior.
Yohn has yet to rule on Abu-Jamal's habeas corpus appeal, which
is his last chance to win a new trial. As the judge only gave Abu-Jamal
30 days to hire new attorneys following the dismissal of his prior
counsel, it appears that a decision could come soon. If he does
not simply reject Abu-Jamal's appeal, the judge has the option of
ordering a new evidentiary hearing, ordering a new trial, or letting
the verdict stand and just ordering a new penalty phase hearing
in the case.