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The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal: an interview with author J. Patrick O'Connor

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On March 27, the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against granting a new guilt-phase trial to world-famous journalist and death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. While ruling against the three issues that could have led to a new guilt-phase trial, the court affirmed US District Court Judge Yohn's 2001 decision overturning the death sentence. If the District Attorney wants to re-instate the death sentence, the DA must call for a new penalty-phase jury trial that would be limited to the question of life in prison without a chance of parole or a re-instatement of the death sentence.

Outraged by this decision, Abu-Jamal’s supporters around the world held “day after” protests, and are now organizing a mass demonstration in Philadelphia on April 19, just days before the PA Presidential Primary Election. Simultaneously, Abu-Jamal is appealing the court ruling “en banc” to the entire Third Circuit, and if unsuccessful there, he will appeal to the US Supreme Court, in an effort to be granted a new guilt-phase trial.

At this critical juncture in Abu-Jamal’s case, an explosive new book is set for release in May, titled “The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” by J. Patrick O’Connor, and published by Lawrence Hill Books. O’Connor explains that he “was an associate editor for TV Guide at its headquarters in nearby Radnor, Pennsylvania during the time Officer Faulkner was killed and Abu-Jamal was put on trial and convicted of murdering him….Sometime in the mid-1990s I began hearing and seeing the ‘Free Mumia’ slogan. In 1996, when HBO premiered the one-hour documentary ‘Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?’, I developed some questions about the verdict and certainly the fairness of his trial.” Soon, O’Connor had “read all the trial transcripts as well as all of the transcripts from Abu-Jamal’s Post‑Conviction Relief Act hearings that were held in 1995, and continued in 1996 and 1997. I also read all the contemporaneous newspaper articles from The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, as well as all the books published about the case.”

In his new book, O’Connor argues that Abu-Jamal was clearly framed by police, and that the actual shooter was a man named Kenneth Freeman. O’Connor criticizes the local media, who, he says “bought into the prosecution’s story line early on and has never been able to see this case for what it is: a framing of an innocent and peace loving man.”

In his review of the recent book “Murdered by Mumia,” O’Connor writes that “there’s a great deal to admire about Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner,” but concludes that her “obsessive hate for Abu-Jamal has blinded her to the prosecutorial misconduct and judicial bias that plagued his trial and justifiably fueled his rise to a world stage. The real villains in her life were the police and prosecutors who framed Abu-Jamal for Officer Faulkner’s killing. They are the ones, not the long drawn out appellate process that has kept Abu-Jamal alive, who have denied her the closure she was due more than twenty-five years ago.”

For more background on “The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal” and J. Patrick O’Connor, is featuring an excerpt from the new book, a previous interview with the author, and O’Connor’s review of “Murdered By Mumia.” This new interview was conducted on April 11, 2008, and will be featured in the “Journalists for Mumia” newspaper, to be released days before the April 19 demonstration in Philadelphia.

Hans Bennett: Advocates of Abu-Jamal's conviction and execution always say that a police frame-up of Abu-Jamal is a lunatic, far-fetched "conspiracy theory" that should be dismissed by any sane observer. What do you mean when you say he was "framed"? How was this done?

J. Patrick O'Connor: Mumia's early association with the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party marked him as a subversive to George Fencl, the chief inspector of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Civil Defense Bureau. His subsequent sympathetic coverage of MOVE while reporting for the local public radio station made him an avowed enemy of Mayor Frank Rizzo. Minutes after Officer Faulkner was shot at 3:55 a.m., Inspector Alfonzo Giordano – who reported directly to Fencl – took command of the crime scene and personally set in motion the framing of Abu-Jamal. It would be Giordano who claimed that Mumia told him in the paddy wagon that he dropped his gun after he shot Faulkner; it would be Giordano who arranged for prostitute Cynthia White and felon Robert Chobert to identify Abu-Jamal as the shooter. Giordano and White would be the D.A. Office’s only witnesses at the preliminary hearing to hold Abu-Jamal over for trial where Giordano repeated this “confession.”

Giordano is as corrupt a police officer as one can imagine. For years he had been extorting kickbacks – personally averaging $3,000 per month – from Center City prostitutes, pimps and bar owners, which explains his early arrival at the crime scene. He knew Cynthia White and her pimp. He coerced her at the scene to identify Abu-Jamal as the shooter. She would be the only witness the D.A. had to claim to see Abu-Jamal holding a gun over Faulkner. In her original statement to the police – given within an hour of the shooting – she had Abu-Jamal running from the parking lot and from as far away as 10-yards firing off “four or five shots” at Faulkner before the officer fell. In her third interview with police detectives, given on December 17, she fine-tuned her statement to comport with the actual evidence in the case that Faulkner was shot at close range. (In one of the most sinister aspects of Abu-Jamal’s case, the police department waited until the Monday after Abu-Jamal’s conviction to “relieve” Giordano of his duties on what would prove to be well-founded “suspicions of corruption.” Four years after Abu-Jamal’s trial, Giordano pled guilty to tax evasion in connection with those payouts and was sent to prison.)

Incredibly, the police arriving at the crime scene would later claim not to have conducted any tests to determine if Abu-Jamal had recently fired a gun by checking for powder residue on his hands or clothing, nor did they claim to even feel or smell his gun to determine if it had been recently fired. Tests such as these are so routine at murder scenes that it is almost inconceivable the police did not run them. It is more likely that they did not like the results of the tests.

From the outset, the investigation into the shooting death of Officer Faulkner was conducted with one goal in mind: to hang the crime on Mumia Abu-Jamal. There was no search for the truth, no attempt at providing the slain officer with the justice he deserved. Giordano handed Abu-Jamal to the D.A.’s Office with his own lie about Abu-Jamal confessing to him and packing off Cynthia White in a squad car to tell her concocted account of the shooting. When the D.A.’s Office was forced to back away from the corrupt Giordano, Assistant D.A. Joseph McGill elicited a new “confession” to replace Giordano’s in February when security guard Priscilla Durham and Officer Garry Bell, Faulkner’s best friend on the police force, responded to his promptings by saying they heard Abu-Jamal blurt out at the hospital, “I shot the mother-f*cker and I hope the mother-f*cker dies.” Not one of the dozens of other officers present at the hospital would make such a claim. In fact, the two officers who accompanied Abu-Jamal from the time he was placed in the paddy wagon until he went into surgery, reported that he made no comments in signed statements given to detectives assigned to the case that morning.

The prosecution knew that its new “confession” could be skewered if Abu-Jamal’s defense attorney, Anthony Jackson, called the two officers who accompanied Abu-Jamal to the stand, so all the prosecution really had was Cynthia White. With White saying she saw it all from beginning to end, and willing to testify that she saw Abu-Jamal blow the helpless Faulkner’s brains out in ruthless cold blood, McGill had his case made, providing White’s credibility could survive Jackson’s cross-examination. McGill bet the entire case that it could, and despite the utter web of lies she told the jury, was right.

Bennett: Why do you think that Kenneth Freeman was the actual shooter of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner?

O'Connor: Kenneth Freeman was Billy Cook’s street vendor partner and was riding with him in the VW when Faulkner pulled the VW over. Freeman got out of the VW and subsequently handed Faulkner a phony driver’s license application bearing the name of Arnold Howard, which Howard had recently loaned to him. Howard’s papers were found in Faulkner’s shirt pocket. Police rounded up both Howard and Freeman in the early morning hours of December 9 and brought them in for questioning. At the Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing in 1995, Howard testified that on several occasions, Cynthia White picked Freeman out of a lineup.

At Billy Cook’s March 29 trial for assaulting Officer Faulkner, with McGill as the prosecutor, White told McGill in direct testimony that the passenger in the VW “had got out.” McGill said, “He got of the car”? White responded, “Yes.” (At Abu-Jamal’s trial, McGill got White to testify that only Abu-Jamal, Cook, and Faulkner were at the scene.)

Various witnesses said they saw a black man running from the scene right after the shooting. Some of the eyewitnesses said this man had an Afro and wore a green army jacket. Freeman did have an Afro and he perpetually wore a green army jacket. Freeman was tall and burly, weighing about 225 pounds at the time.

Cab driver Robert Harkins was driving right by the parked police car and the VW when he saw a police officer grab a man. The man “then spun around and the officer went to the ground,” falling face down backwards, landing on his hands and knees. The assailant shot the officer in the back, causing him to roll over on his back, and then executed him with a shot to his forehead.

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Hans Bennett is a multi-media journalist mostly focusing on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners. An archive of his work is available at and he is also co-founder of "Journalists for Mumia," (more...)
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