[Ppnews] Mumia and the DA Candidates
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 6 18:30:15 EDT 2009
Posted on Wed, May. 6, 2009
Mumia & the D.A. candidates
By MILTON McGRIFF
EACH of the candidates for Philadelphia district attorney recently
told Daily News columnist Michael Smerconish that, if elected, they'd
pursue the death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal in the event of a new
sentencing hearing or new trial.
One, Seth Williams, noted that he'd attended hearings and studied
court documents and trial notes before making his decision.
Three police reports and a page one Daily News story (Jan. 9, 1982)
on preliminary- hearing testimony aren't in the original trial
record. Amazingly, in both the reports and the story, police
officers, one an inspector, claim to have heard a wounded but
talkative Abu-Jamal make two separate admissions of guilt in the
early morning hours of Dec. 9, 1981, when authorities say he fatally
wounded police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
The police reports are mentioned in a 1995 Post-Conviction Relief Act
hearing. Abu-Jamal's lawyers brought their subject, Officer Gary
Wakshul, to the stand and grilled him about the contents.
But what the police reports say was incorrectly reported by the
D.A.'s office in a "proposed finding of fact" prepared by Assistant
D.A. Hugh Burns for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Common Pleas Judge Albert Sabo, Abu-Jamal's trial judge,
rubber-stamped the mistake in his own fact-finding report. In denying
a new trial, the state Supreme Court corrected the technicalities
without comment but left the impression that the officer central to
the three reports was a credible witness.
In a 1999 interview with the Philadelphia Tribune, Burns said that he
and Sabo had made an "error." But they made no effort to put the
truth on the record. A correction would make Wakshul an unbelievable witness.
I conducted the 1999 interview with Burns, and have always believed
that the distortion was used to bolster Wakshul's credibility and
hide an extremely damaging statement he made in the third police
report. Joseph McGill, the original prosecutor, kept Wakshul from
testifying at the trial. Sabo denied the defense request to have him testify.
Let me explain. Wakshul, a four-year veteran, spoke with
investigators at least three times. On Dec. 9, 1981, when Faulkner
was killed, Wakshul guarded a seriously wounded Abu-Jamal at the
crime scene and the hospital until they took him to surgery. He told
investigators "the Negro male made no comments."
In a Dec. 16 interview, Wakshul recalled details about what Abu-Jamal
wore and was asked if there was anything he wanted to add. Nothing, he said.
Then, 64 days after the shooting, on Feb. 11, 1982, when police were
investigating Abu-Jamal's charges of police brutality, Wakshul
suddenly recalled that Abu-Jamal had shouted, "Yeah, I shot the
m-----f----- and I hope he dies!" These exact words had surfaced for
the first time, just two days before Wakshul "remembered" them, in a
security guard's report to police.
Asked why he'd said nothing before, Wakshul amazingly said, "At the
time, the statement disgusted me, and I didn't realize it [had] any
importance until today."
Flash forward to the 1995 post-conviction hearing, which was an
attempt to get Abu-Jamal a new trial.
Wakshul, interrogated repeatedly by Abu-Jamal's lawyers, said the
emotional trauma he suffered because of Faulkner's death kept him
from remembering the purported Abu-Jamal confession. (Garry Bell,
Faulkner's partner, testifying at Abu-Jamal's trial 13 years earlier,
had invoked emotional trauma for waiting 78 days before telling
authorities he had heard the same confession.)
When preparing their "proposed finding of fact" for the high court,
Burns took Wakshul's 1995 testimony and said he'd given the trauma
explanation 13 years earlier (instead of his original "lack of
importance" reason) for not reporting Abu-Jamal's "confession." Sabo
used Burns' language and deemed Wakshul a credible witness.
The state Supreme Court tweaked the paragraph to truthfully note that
Wakshul had given three statements (not two) and first made the
emotional trauma comment at the 1995 hearing. But no mention was made
of his "I didn't realize it had any importance" excuse.
Likewise, no trial documents mention Inspector Al Giordano's
preliminary hearing testimony that he heard a separate admission of
guilt. The Daily News blared it on page one on Jan. 9, 1982: "Cop:
Jamal Admitted Killing Faulkner." Giordano said he asked Abu-Jamal
why the shoulder holster he wore that night was empty. Abu-Jamal
allegedly told the inspector he'd dropped the gun after shooting
Faulkner while lying wounded in the police wagon.
Why, you might ask, wasn't a police inspector called to testify at
Abu-Jamal's trial? Well, Giordano's credibility became a problem
after it became known that he was the target of a federal probe of a
$120,000 scam. He resigned shortly after Abu-Jamal was convicted, and
admitted taking $57,000 in bribes.
The candidates can say none of this proves Abu-Jamal's innocence. But
it does show authorities were more interested in winning and then
denying Abu-Jamal a new trial than they were in providing truthful information.
The "error" covered up information damaging to the state's case, and
no one has ever moved to correct the official record.
Other damaging information like this exists and permeates the case
against Abu-Jamal. If he is indisputably guilty, a new trial will do
nothing to change that. Hiding the official testimony of officers
suggests that other information may be hidden, too. This raises
questions about the motives of the D.A.'s office, motives that I hope
a new D.A. will examine instead of reflexively calling for the death
penalty at the behest of the Fraternal Order of Police. *
Milton McGriff is a local journalist who reported on this case for
the Philadelphia Tribune from 1998-2000. He wrote his master's thesis
at Iowa State about the case, and knew Abu-Jamal in 1969, when he was
a member of the Black Panther Party.
Find this article at:
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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