In the years following the 1996 documentary “A Case for Reasonable Doubt,” there was a feeling amongst many in the country that Mumia Abu Jamal, a former Philadelphia radio journalist and taxi driver, received an unfair trial for killing Officer Daniel Faulkner, a crime he says he did not commit.
“I wanted to answer the question, did he or did he not do it,” J. Patrick O’Connor, the author of The Framing of Mumia Abu Jamal, told a small group of Trinity College students Thursday night.
A seasoned crime reporter, O’Connor said, he relied heavily on the original trial transcripts, police reports, and other books about Abu Jamal to conclude that he didn’t do it. O’Connor said his book goes one step further in fingering the actual shooter as Kenneth Freeman.
According to O’Connor this is how things happened the night of Dec. 9, 1981. Abu Jamal who had just been laid off from his job at a local radio station was moonlighting as a cab driver when he saw his brother Billy Cook, who was always with his friend Kenneth Freeman, drive by and get pulled over by Officer Daniel Faulkner.
He said Faulkner gets Freeman out of the car and takes his phony drivers license application, which was later found in Faulkner’s short pocket. He said Faulkner must have asked Freeman to get back into the car, then gets Cook out and starts beating him over the head. Abu Jamal sees his little brother getting beat up and gets out of his cab to go over and stop it.
He said Faulkner sees Abu Jamal approaching and thinks he’s a member of the counterculture group MOVE, so he shoots him. He said Freeman then exit’s the car and shoots Faulkner before running off. He said Cook wanted to run away, but stopped.
So where is Freeman now?
Freeman’s body was found in a North Philadelphia parking lot in 1985, O’Connor said. His hands were tied behind his back and he was gagged and no investigation was ever done. O’Connor said coincidentally the same night Freeman’s body was found was the night that the Philadelphia police firebombed the MOVE house on Osage Avenue. The medical examiner listed the cause of Freeman’s death as a heart attack, he added.
And what about Billy Cook? “Not one reporter has talked to Billy in 26 years,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said Abu Jamal was framed by police because he was one of the few reporters critical of the city’s administration. “He was a thorn in the police’s side,” he said. From the inadequate court-appointed defense attorney to the exclusion of black jurors from the jury pool, Abu Jamal’s trial was riddled with problems, he said.
“Imprisonment represents the most repressive aspects of our society,” Johanna Fernandez, professor of 20th Century U.S. History at Baruch College in New York, said. “The reality is imprisonment is even more terrifying when a prisoner maintains his innocence.”
She said in the 1990s there was a movement to expose the criminality of the justice system, and one of the most famous cases during that time was Abu Jamal’s case, attracting support from heads of state around the world.
After Sept. 11 the movement evaporated she said. She said she hopes O’Connor’s book helps raise Abu Jamal’s profile again.
There are also a number of things college students can do to help, she said. She said getting the Hartford City Council to pass a resolution in support of Abu Jamal is just one of the things Trinity College students can do to help.
O’Connor said Abu Jamal’s last appeal to the Supreme Court needs to be filed before Dec. 20.
“He hates to get his hopes up,” he said. He said he thinks he’s more optimistic than Abu Jamal about his chances.
Alisa Cox-West, a Trinity College sophomore, who attended a protest for Abu Jamal in Philadelphia earlier this year, said she started listening to his talks from his prison cell and got interested in his cause. “I fell I love,” she said.
She said she helped organize Thursday’s event and coordinate O’Connor and Fernandez appearance with other colleges in the area.
Click here to see the Philly Independent Media Center’s multi-part interview with O’Connor about his book.
Or catch his last stop on his Connecticut tour 6 p.m. tonight at Labyrinth Books, 290 York Street, New Haven.