The odds are that Mumia Abu-Jamal has made his last appearance on the front page and that it a good thing. The case of the man who shot and killed Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner 30 years ago today (Dec. 9, 1981) has taken up far too much space and ink over the years.
It was District Attorney Seth Williams who decided to end the nonsense.
His 1983 murder conviction has stood despite numerous state and federal appeals brought by Abu-Jamal advocates. The latest review of the case was done in 2001 by U.S. District Judge William Yohn, a lengthy opinion that went step -by-step to knock down the assertions by Abu-Jamal's advocates that there were errors and omissions in the handling of the case by police, prosecutors and the judge who presided over his trial.
But, Yohn did rule that the judge erred in the sentencing hearing, tilting the jury's decision towards giving Abu-Jamal the death penalty. Yohn vacated the death penalty and his decision, in turn, wended its ways though the federal appeals courts before it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in October.
As DA, Williams had two options: to convene a new jury to hear evidence on Abu-Jamal's sentence or to rest his case. With Maureen Faulkner, the slain officer's widow, at his side, Williams said he had decided to rest the case. He said he felt a new jury very likely would sentence Abu-Jamal to death again, but the sentence would also likely face decades of appeals, costing millions and accomplishing little.
Abu-Jamal, now 57, will not be executed, but he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
His followers, I am sure, will vow to continue to fight for his cause. Every few years, they promise to release new evidence that will prove that Abu-Jamal did not kill Faulkner, but that the deed was done by another, mysterious man or evil force or perhaps aliens from the planet Xenu. It will be harder for the Mumaniacs to get traction, though, because of Williams' decision this week.
The show is over.
Belief in Abu-Jamal's innocence has always been in inverse ratio of proximity to the crime. If you lived in
When Abu-Jamal, then driving a cab, witnessed Faulkner arresting his brother, he hopped out and shot the officer. Faulkner managed to get off one shot, hitting Abu-Jamal. It happened at the corner of 13th and Locust Streets and that's where the cops found Faulkner's body and a bleeding Abu-Jamal when they arrived. There were witnesses to the deed as well, who testified at the trial.
The Mumaniacs have studied the case with Talmudic intensity, offering long tracts that (they say) raise doubts about -- well, just about everything. It's a smokescreen. He killed Faulkner.
From his prison cell, Abu-Jamal became an effective propagandist for his own case. He made for an attractive object of leftist desire: intelligent, eloquent, with a smooth basso voice, looking slightly exotic in his dreadlocks. He became the poster boy for those who believe that
Faulkner's widow and those in law enforcement saw Abu-Jamal as something else. A cop-killer who used our labyrinthine legal system to tie justice into knots. The Abu-Jamal appeals machine, funding by donations from the faithful, was a little engine that knew no rest.
By deciding not to pursue the case, Williams has cut the knot.
Those Mumia faithful can have a good cry and get on with their lives or champion the cause of another convicted criminal, preferably someone innocent.
Abu-Jamal, know as "Pops" by fellow inmates, can leave death row, join the general population and wait to die.
A former inmate I know once called prisons "cemeteries for the living." I have been in a number of prisons (let me add: always as a visitor) and they are hard, cruel places. Maybe that is why I am a contrarian on the issue of death vs. life sentences. If I had spent nearly 30 years in prison, as Abu-Jamal has, and faced the prospect of 25 or 30 more, would I prefer a lethal injection to the bleakness of life behind bars?
I have no doubt what Mumia's decision will be. He has more pronouncements to make, followers to lead, money to raise for his next fantasy defense. But, after a few years, it will fade away. He will become yesterday's news. He will be forgotten and alone. And that will be a good thing, too,
-- Tom Ferrick