[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


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.


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