“The newly discovered photographs reveal the fact that the police were actively manipulating evidence at the homicide scene. For example, their moving the police officer’s hat from the roof of Billy Cook’s vehicle to the sidewalk to make the scene more emotionally dramatic was fraudulent and criminal. It was as if they were setting up a scene, putting in props for a movie to be shot. That is incredible,” said Robert R. Bryan, lead attorney for death-row journalist and former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death in a 1982 trial that Amnesty International has declared a “violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty.”
The new crime scene photos described by Bryan were recently unveiled in Philadelphia by German author Michael Schiffmann, during a crucial week for Abu-Jamal.
On May 17, a three-judge panel from the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals held oral arguments in Philadelphia and considered four different issues regarding the fairness of Abu-Jamal’s original 1982 trial. Joined by Christina Swarns of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Bryan argued that Abu-Jamal’s trial was tainted with racist jury selection, confusing jury instructions, prosecutorial misconduct in summation to the jury (at both guilt and penalty phases), and the bias of a trial judge that a court stenographer overheard boasting in 1982, that he was going to help the prosecution “fry the nigger.”
Supporters of Abu-Jamal packed the federal courthouse and held a large demonstration outside on the street. While many of the hundreds of supporters outside held large posters displaying the new crime scene photos to the Philadelphia public, the explosive new evidence could not be presented in the courtroom because of the narrow “four-issue” scope of the oral arguments.
Only a new trial will allow this new photographic evidence to be presented before a court.
German Author Michael Schiffmann Presents New Photos
Among the many international observers in Philadelphia for the hearing, was German author Michael Schiffmann, who utilized the important week to present the crime scene photos and other new evidence from his new book (not yet published in the US) “Race Against Death; Mumia Abu-Jamal: a Black Revolutionary in White America,” an expansion of Schiffmann’s PhD dissertation at the University of Heidelberg, just released in Germany.
Following the May 17 oral arguments, Schiffmann presented Race Against Death to a standing-room only crowd at a community center in West Philadelphia. Along with presenting original ballistics analysis, Schiffmann unveiled the new crime scene photos from the morning of December 9, 1981, that have only been published in his German book.
Schiffmann recounted how in May, 2006, he discovered two photographs on the Internet that were taken by the only press photographer immediately present at the 1981 crime scene – Pedro P. Polakoff, III. Upon contacting him, Polakoff told Schiffmann that he arrived within 12 minutes of hearing about the shooting on the police radio and about ten minutes before the Mobile Crime Unit (responsible for forensics and photographs) arrived. According to Polakoff, this unit had still not taken any photos when Polakoff left after 30-45 minutes at the scene.
Schiffmann published five of Polakoff’s photos in Race Against Death, and chose four of those to present to the US public on thousands of large posters spread around Philadelphia, and also on the “Journalists for Mumia” website, Abu-Jamal-News.com.
One photo is of Police Officer James Forbes, who testified in court that he had secured the weapons of both Faulkner and Abu-Jamal without touching them on their metal parts in order to not destroy potential fingerprints. Attorney Robert R. Bryan considers this photograph of Forbes to be the “most stunning example” of the “incompetent manner in which the police at the scene dealt with the evidence,” because Forbes is “holding both pistols found at the scene in one hand, bare-handed! This is unthinkable. A nitwit could do better. Why were there no fingerprint tests? Why no ballistic examinations? It reminds me of a scene from ‘The Keystone Cops,’ the way the evidence was being handled and manipulated, except this was not funny.”
Another, two-photo sequence shows that the police moved P.O. Faulkner’s hat from the roof of Abu-Jamal’s brother’s car, and placed it instead on the sidewalk in front of 1234 Locust where it was later photographed by the police photographer who arrived 10 minutes after Polakoff.
The last photo is of the large, empty space directly behind P.O. Faulkner’s car, where the second-most important prosecution witness, cab driver Robert Chobert, testified to have been parked when he claimed to have observed Abu-Jamal shoot Faulkner.
Schiffmann extensively interviewed Polakoff about what he saw and heard at the crime scene, and reports in Race that “according to Polakoff, at that time all the officers present expressed the firm conviction that Abu-Jamal had been the passenger in Billy Cook’s VW and had shot and killed Faulkner by a single shot fired from the passenger seat of the car.”
While this observation contradicts the official prosecution scenario that Abu-Jamal ran from across the street before shooting Faulkner, it strongly supports Schiffmann’s original ballistics analysis and conclusion that a third person (not Abu-Jamal or his brother Billy Cook) most likely shot and killed Faulkner. This third person was Kenneth Freeman (Billy Cook’s friend and business partner), who – according to the available evidence – was the passenger in Cook’s car, and was therefore the black male that six eyewitnesses reported to see fleeing the scene moments before other police arrived.
Polakoff also told Schiffmann that the police opinion that the passenger was the shooter “was apparently based on the testimony of three witnesses who were still present at the crime scene, namely, by the parking lot attendant in charge of the parking lot on the Northern side of Locust Street, by a drug addicted woman apparently acquainted with the parking lot attendant, and another woman. As Polakoff later heard from colleagues in the media, the parking lot attendant had disappeared the day after, while the drug-addicted witness died a couple of days later from an overdose.”
Schiffmann concludes that “whatever it was that these witnesses saw or did not see, we will probably never know – the interesting fact in any case is that neither of them ever appeared in any report presented by the police or the prosecution.”
Polakoff told Schiffmann that he was simply ignored when he repeatedly contacted the DA’s office in 1982 and 1995 to give them his account–and his photos–of the crime scene.
Mainstream Media Ignores Photos
While a few alternative media websites like The Independent Media Center (indymedia.org) and Infoshop News (infoshop.org) have enthusiastically reported on the unveiling of Polakoff’s photos, a “Google” news search reveals a total blackout in the mainstream media. Not even one mainstream media outlet has reported on them.
Veteran Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington, Jr., has been covering the Abu-Jamal case for over 25 years. He feels that the media’s absolute failure to even acknowledge these explosive photos continues a long history of media bias against Abu-Jamal’s fight for a new and fair trial. This shows “once again how this supposed information seeking institution shirks its ethical duties in the Abu-Jamal case to ‘seek truth and report it.’”
“This series of photographs damage the prosecution’s case significantly because they graphically show police tampering with and manipulating the crime scene.”
“Given the old ‘picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words’ dynamic, it is not surprising that the prosecutor repeatedly rejected this photographer’s offers of assistance because his photos expose the structural flaws in the case presented in court against Abu-Jamal. These photos provide additional evidence that the jury did not consider all of the available evidence due to misconduct by police and prosecutors. This misconduct fuels demands for a fair trial in this case.”
Listen to the audio from Michael Schiffmann’s presentation:
View the crime scene photos: