Mumia case poised for new hearing, reopening widow’s wounds
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Thirty years after her patrolman husband was killed in a traffic stop, Maureen Faulkner agreed to a 2011 deal that lifted the convicted killer’s death sentence in hopes it would end his appeals and let his death row celebrity fade.
Now, with the case revived again, she fears there’s no finality in the criminal justice system. And the city of Philadelphia is poised to revisit one of its most contentious murder cases: the 1981 slaying of 25-year-old white police Officer Daniel Faulkner and the chaotic trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the ex-Black Panther and radio journalist convicted of gunning him down.
“It’s not fair that I have to do this, just to be slapped in the face constantly with this case, over and over and over again,” Maureen Faulkner, 62, told The Associated Press this week. “I’m in a mental prison.”
Abu-Jamal, 65, gained fame through his prison writings and recordings on race and the criminal justice system. He had seemingly reached the end of his appeals once the city dropped the death sentence in 2011 over allegedly misleading jury instructions. The “Free Mumia” rallies, anti-death penalty protests and Hollywood support died down.
However, a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a related case, the 2017 election of reformist Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, and the surprise discovery late last year of six lost boxes of prosecution files breathed new life into the case.
Together, they could be enough to win him a new trial.
Abu-Jamal is now pursuing his fifth post-conviction review in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, based on notes in the unearthed files that the defense says suggests prosecutors promised money to one eyewitness, helped another with her prostitution case and made notes about the race of prospective jurors.
“The fact that we have now seen new pieces of evidence that should have been disclosed years and years ago is certainly not the fault of anyone on the defense side,” said Judith Ritter, a Delaware Law School professor who has steered Abu-Jamal’s defense in recent years. “I don’t know there are too many people who would say that finality is more important than preventing wrongful or unconstitutionally attained convictions.”
Faulkner was shot and killed in a scuffle after pulling over Abu-Jamal’s brother in what was then the red-light district as the bars closed. Abu-Jamal, who moonlighted as a cab driver, came upon the scene and was found shot and wounded in the aftermath nearby.
The prosecution witnesses testified that Abu-Jamal, then known as Wesley Cook, ran toward the scene and shot the officer. His brother never testified and soon left town.
“That single fact, I think, has always bedeviled the case. That there was another person who was at the scene, indisputably,” lawyer Daniel R. Williams said this year. Williams represented Abu-Jamal in the 1990s and, like Maureen Faulkner, wrote a book about the case.
Maureen Faulkner asked the state Superior Court late Thursday to remove Krasaner’s office from the case, days after it decided not to oppose Abu-Jamal’s bid for a hearing on the new evidence.
Faulkner believes Krasner has a conflict of interest because his wife’s former law firm, and a top deputy in his office, had represented Abu-Jamal in the past.
Krasner’s office said Friday it is reviewing the petition. Of the newly discovered files, spokeswoman Jane Roh said: “The Constitution requires that all relevant, potentially exculpatory evidence be disclosed to a defendant.”
Ritter, in a brief filed this month, argued that Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial was tainted by the prosecution’s failure to share evidence the eyewitnesses were coerced, their efforts to strike a disproportionate number of black jurors, the court-appointed defense lawyer’s failure to hire a ballistics expert and other problems.
She concedes that victims’ interests should factor into the national debate about criminal justice reform, “but not at the expense of reliable, accurate and fair resolutions to criminal accusations.”
Krasner, a longtime civil rights lawyer, has expressed similar views in championing the release so far of nine men exonerated in Philadelphia murder cases.
He likewise stood aside in January, when a city judge granted Abu-Jamal a chance to reargue his initial appeal because of an alleged conflict involving a former state justice on the panel.
Maureen Faulkner, outraged by what she sees as a lack of support from Krasner’s office, plans another trip East next week.
She moved to California shortly after her husband’s death, resuming her career as a nurse and building a new life in between the countless trips back home to defend his memory and the trial verdict.
“I feel like it’s a boxing ring. I go in and I take my punches and I walk away,” she said.
This story has been updated to correct that the boxes with case files were found late last year, not this year.