“The history of the criminal case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, which is by now almost 25 years old, has been characterized by bias right from the start: against a black man whom the court denied a jury of his peers, against a member of the economic underclass who did not have a real claim to a qualified defense, and against a radical, whose allegedly dangerous militancy obliged the state to eliminate him from the ranks of society.”
So writes German author Michael Schiffmann in his new book 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 this past month.
In 1982, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death in a trial that Amnesty International has declared a "violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty."
Schiffmann writes that a third person (not Abu-Jamal or his brother Billy Cook) most likely shot and killed police officer Daniel Faulkner on the morning of December 9, 1981. This third person was Kenneth Freeman (Billy Cook's friend and business partner), who -- according to the available evidence -- was a passenger in Cook's car. Freeman likely shot him in response to Faulkner shooting Abu-Jamal in the chest, and was therefore the black male that six eyewitnesses reported to see fleeing the scene moments before other police arrived.
Race Against Death asserts that ballistics almost certainly rule out Abu-Jamal firing the first shot (into Faulkner's back), and that much evidence shows that he also didn't fire the lethal bullet to Faulkner's head. However, in the very unlikely scenario that Abu-Jamal did shoot Faulkner, it would have been a response to being shot himself and would therefore be justified self-defense.
MIT professor Noam Chomsky (a long-time supporter of Abu-Jamal) writes that Schiffmann's "careful and scrupulous inquiry into the events and the available evidence brings to light much that is new or was obscured," and "raises understanding of this painful and critically important case to a new level. Not only his comprehensive research, but also his penetrating evaluation of the background and import, should be the basis for further engagement in the case itself and the intricate array of issues in which it is embedded."
Building upon evidence presented in the other two books written about Abu-Jamal's case (Dan Williams' 2001 Executing Justice and Dave Lindorff's 2003 Killing Time), Schiffmann boldly presents both new evidence and an entirely original analysis of previous ballistics evidence.
A New Witness: Photographer Pedro Polakoff
In May, 2006, Schiffmann discovered two photographs on the Internet that were taken by the only press photographer immediately present at the 1981 crime scene, Pedro Polakoff. The photographer 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. This unit had still not taken any photos when Polakoff left after 30-45 minutes at the scene.
Upon contacting Polakoff, Schiffmann learned that three of his 31 original shots were published in Philly newspapers at the time, and five others were lost. Schiffmann told Z Magazine that he "published five of the 26 remaining photos to show the following three points":
* "The cops manipulated evidence and supplied the trial court with stuff that was simply stage-managed. On Polakoff's photos, P.O. Faulkner's police hat at first is clearly on the roof of Billy Cook's VW, and only later on the sidewalk in front of 1234 Locust where it was photographed by the police photographer who arrived 10 minutes after Polakoff!
* "In court Police Officer James Forbes claimed that he had 'secured' the weapons of both Faulkner and Mumia without touching them on their metal parts in order to not destroy potential fingerprints. However, in the single photo reprinted in the book you can see that Forbes is touching the weapons on their metal parts, and quite a few of Polakoff's other photos make it clear that Forbes touched and smudged these weapons all over, destroying any potential fingerprint evidence that may have been on them.
* "The second-most important prosecution witness, cab driver Robert Chobert, simply was not parked in the spot, allegedly right behind Officer Faulkner's police squad car, where he claimed to have been and from where he claimed to have observed Mumia fire the shot that killed the officer."
Polakoff's observations don't stop there. Schiffmann writes in Race: "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 fired and killed Faulkner by a single shot fired from the passenger seat of the car."
"Polakoff further reports that this opinion on the part of the police about what had happened 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. 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 to give them his account -- and his photos -- of the crime scene.
Schiffmann has informed Mumia's lawyers about Polakoff's evidence -- who are looking into it further.
No Bullet Traces in Sidewalk
The prosecution claims that Mumia stood over and shot at Faulkner three to four times (with only one shot hitting him) while Faulkner was lying on his back. Schiffmann asserts that if this was true, there would have had to have been two to three large divots in the pavement (next to Faulkner's body) resulting from the bullets' impact. Since photos and police reports do not reveal any damage or bullet fragments in that location, Schiffmann concludes that the prosecution scenario must be false.
While this "missing divots" observation was publicly revealed in 2001 by Mumia's former lawyers, Schiffmann is literally the first writer to investigate this further.
To support the assertion Schiffmann interviewed a German ballistics expert and was told that "such divots couldn't possibly have been overlooked." He concludes: "They were simply not there."
Furthermore, photographer Pedro Polakoff "emphatically denied that there could be any such divots beneath the blood or anywhere else in the area of the sidewalk to be seen on his photos."
After asserting the fraudulence of the prosecution's scenario, Schiffmann goes further and declares that the three prosecution witnesses supporting this scenario must have been lying. Even ignoring previous evidence that witnesses Robert Chobert and Cynthia White falsely testified, "the absence of any bullet traces or bullets in the sidewalk in front of 1234 Locust is irrefutable physical evidence that these two, plus witness Michael Scanlan did not tell the truth at Mumia's trial. By that simple observation a central part of the prosecution's theory is simply blown out of the water -- and new evidence is on the table thereby for the coaching, coercion and manipulation of witnesses."
Bullet and Fragments at Crime Scene
Schiffmann's entirely original ballistics analysis is the most explosive section of Race Against Death. Researched for more than three years, this chapter analyzes both the unexplained bullet and fragments found in the doorway of 1234 Locust Street and the copper bullet jacket found on the sidewalk (all a full car-length from Officer Faulkner's body).
Most likely the bullet shot into Faulkner's Back (traveling at an upward angle and exiting slightly beneath his throat) came from the sidewalk behind Faulkner as he was facing northwest towards Mumia and towards the parking lot situated at the northeastern corner of the intersection 13th and Locust where Mumia came from. The most logical way for Mumia to approach the scene was diagonally from Northwest to Southeast -- but the only bullet fragment found in or around 1234 Locust that could have had anything to do with the shot in Faulkner's back traveled from Northeast to Southwest, at a sharp angle from where Mumia was approaching the scene! Schiffmann shows that even if Mumia had approached the scene in an indirect and awkward way by almost circumventing it first, the bullet fragment in question cannot have come from a shot fired by him at that time.
There was no evidence of any bullet further east down Locust -- where it would have been had Mumia shot Faulkner from his more logical approach to the scene from a northwestern direction.
Schiffmann writes in Race that "this evidence shows that the first shot that hit Faulkner did not come from the direction from which Abu-Jamal approached the scene, could therefore not have been fired by Abu-Jamal, and was thus necessarily fired by some third person, a possibility that the prosecution has always adamantly denied."
Schiffmann told me: "The first key point is that Mumia is no murderer. If he shot at all, he shot to defend his own life, after he intervened at the scene in the first place to protect his brother who had already been beaten bloody."
"Second, it is very unlikely that Mumia even took his gun out of its holster during that fateful night. What if the destruction of fingerprint evidence on Mumia's gun (shown in Polakoff's photos) was not just negligent, but deliberate? It would mean that the police themselves were the ones who drew Mumia's weapon (which had been empty apart from five spent cartridges to begin with) out of his shoulder holster."
The Third Person: Ken Freeman?
Schiffmann cites six witnesses (including several that were intimidated by police) that saw someone run away before police arrived, and then argues that this third person was most likely Billy Cook's business partner and friend, Kenneth Freeman.
In the 1995 PCRA hearings, it was revealed that Faulkner had a license application in his front pocket (concealed from the defense for 13 years) for one Arnold Howard -- who testified that he had loaned his temporary (non-photo) license to Kenneth Freeman.
Schiffmann explained to me that "Billy Cook's attorney Daniel Alva told Dave Lindorff (in his book Killing Time) that Cook had told him within days after the shooting that Freeman had been with him that night. There wasn't the slightest reason for Alva do have done so if it was not indeed true. Lying to journalists doesn't belong to the duties of a defense attorney, and the assumption that a well-respected member of the Philadelphia legal community such as Alva would do so for no apparent reason makes little sense to me."
Returning to his ballistics analysis, Schiffmann argues: "A person coming out of the passenger seat of Billy Cook's VW would have been ideally placed to fire the shot that hit Faulkner in the back and exited through the region below his throat. Faulkner had on a clip-on police tie that was apparently hit right at that clip (since there was blood and lead on it). The tie was found nowhere near 1234 Locust where it should have been found had Mumia fired that shot in Faulkner's back. Instead, it was on the Northern side of Locust shortly before the intersection 13th and Locust. And this, in turn, means that the shooter must have been on the sidewalk in front of 1234 Locust -- not in the street coming from the parking lot, as Mumia was."
Further supporting Schiffmann's argument are the mysterious circumstance of Freeman's death. On May 13, 1985 (the same day police firebombed the MOVE organization's headquarters), Freeman was found dead in a parking lot. Likely murdered by police that day, he was found naked, handcuffed and had a drug needle in his arm. Given the impossibility of injecting himself with the needle while handcuffed, the official explanation for the 31-year-old's death (heart attack) seems incredible.
"If Freeman was indeed killed by cops, the killing probably was part of a general vendetta of the Philadelphia cops against their 'enemies' and the cops killed him because they knew or suspected he had something to do with the killing of Faulkner," said Schiffmann.
The Arnold Beverly Confession
After years of careful analysis, Schiffmann concludes that the scenario presented by career criminal Arnold Beverly in his 2001 affidavit (stating that he killed Faulkner and that Mumia was not involved) is "too contradictory to be tenable." However, Schiffmann is highly critical of the courts' flippant rejection of the Beverly affidavit. Considering the seriousness of a death-row homicide case, he argues that they should have at least determined its credibility in a public court hearing
The controversial Beverly scenario is no longer an issue in the courts, but Schiffmann argues that this may not be the worst thing. "The Beverly affidavit has often been a distraction from what should be the really central issues: frame-up, unfair trial, legal innocence, actual innocence. No Arnold Beverly is needed to show that Mumia should be a free man and shouldn't have spent even one day in jail."
Freiheit für Mumia Abu-Jamal!
Noam Chomsky argues that "Mumia's case is symbolic of something much broader . . . The US prison system is simply class and race war . . . Mumia and other prisoners are the kind of people that get assassinated by what's called 'social cleansing' in US client states like Colombia."
Schiffmann also feels that Mumia's case is part of a much larger picture and devotes most of his book to providing a proper historical context. "Determined not to write the typical boring academic tract," Schiffmann told me: "My book's not just about Mumia. His case is important because of the larger legal, political, and social issues that his case exposes. I investigate the US's constitutional tradition, the history of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the horrendous history of city development in the US tragically exemplified in Philadelphia, Mumia's extraordinary yet typical history of a Black youth alienated by the false promises the US 'offered' for him as a young man of the wrong color, and finally the development of the US into a virtual police state for many segments of the population."
Schiffmann emphasizes the extreme importance of Mumia's current battle in the courtroom, but feels that solid legal strategy will only go so far in gaining a new trial. The key will be to exert maximum political pressure from the grassroots in Philadelphia and around the world. A "broad, multi-faceted and democratic mass-movement," emphasizing that "Mumia is all of us," must be used to ensure real justice.
Schiffmann urges those in the US to attend (or support locally) the massive Philadelphia demonstration being organized to support Abu-Jamal on December 9 -- the 25th anniversary of Abu-Jamal's arrest. "We have kept Mumia alive. Against the odds, we have won the first stage of an uphill battle. Now we must go on all the way -- and that is to free Mumia Abu-Jamal!"
* This review is based on both an exclusive reading of the (unpublished) English language version of Race Against Death and the author's recent full-length interview with Schiffmann about his book and the German movement supporting Mumia Abu-Jamal. The interview can be read here.
Michael Schiffmann's book Race Against Death: Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Black Revolutionary in White America has just been released in Germany. Schiffmann is still looking for a US publisher. He can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is: www.againstthecrimeofsilence.de .
Hans Bennett is a Philadelphia-based photo-journalist who has been documenting the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners for over five years. For more information, please visit his new website: www.insubordination.blogspot.com.
Other Articles by Hans Bennett
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