Freiheit für Mumia Abu-Jamal!
An interview with Michael Schiffmann
By Hans Bennett
German author Michael Schiffmann’s new book Race Against Death: Mumia Abu-Jamal: a Black Revolutionary in White America (an expansion of Schiffmann’s Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Heidelberg), has just been released in Germany this past month.
Schiffmann recently took time out of his busy schedule (touring Europe promoting Race Against Death) to do this interview.
Check out Hans Bennett's new "Voice of the Voiceless" Series on Abu- Jamal published in the weeks leading up to the December 9 mass demonstration for Abu-Jamal in Philadelphia commemorating the 25th anniversary of his 1981 arrest. The series also explains the importance of the upcoming public oral arguments deciding whether or not to grant a new trial for the death-row prisoner and journalist.
Hans: Why are Germans so interested in Mumia’s case?
Michael: I guess the interest Germans have in Mumia’s case is the same as anywhere else: Mumia’s case is one where so many injustices just concentrate. Race, class, and revolutionary politics play a demonstrably decisive role. Mumia was denied a jury of his peers, a point that is now one of three issues certified for appeal before the 3rd Federal Court of Appeals.
RACE: There are varying estimates according to which potential Black jurors were 10 to 16 times more likely than white jurors to be “peremptorily struck” (struck without giving reasons) from the jury by prosecutor Joseph McGill.
CLASS: Mumia’s court-appointed lawyer was monumentally under-funded and therefore just not up to the task. Though initially chosen by Mumia because of his track record in anti-police brutality work, he had little if any experience in death penalty litigation – this is a point mendaciously denied by various “Fry Mumia” websites, even though it is clearly true as preceding works and my own book demonstrate. Had Mumia been able at the time to hire a really first-class lawyer and to pay out of his own pocket for the experts that the court denied him funds for, most of the prosecution's case would have fallen apart right away and a conviction would have been impossible since there was no evidence to convict him for.
REVOLUTIONARY POLITICS: This couldn’t have been more blatant: Prosecutor McGill attributed an indubitably true quote by Mao Zedong according to which “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” to Mumia in order to paint him as a violence-prone outlaw and cop hater. What McGill didn’t tell the jury was that Mumia quoted Mao Zedong in an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Acel Moore after he himself had reported for the Black Panther Party (BPP) paper The Black Panther on the execution-style murder of Chicago BPP-members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark on December 4, 1969.
Once you go into Mumia’s trial, there is of course much more. As my book shows more conclusively than previous work, Mumia was assigned not only the probably most vicious prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Joseph McGill, but also two of the most awful judges (Judge Ribner for the pre-trial period and Albert F. Sabo for the trial).
Then there is the rest of it: False confessions, manipulation of eyewitnesses, tampering with the evidence, suppression and/or destruction of evidence, you name it – all in the interest of securing a conviction.
As for Germany, this whole background was beginning to seep through at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. The current German publisher of Mumia’s books and most of the books on Mumia, Jürgen Heiser, began to champion Mumia’s case and cause at around 1989, culminating in the publication of Mumia’s first book, Live from Death Row, in German in 1995, followed by a lot of other stuff. Heiser’s publishing house is, characteristically, named “Atlantik Verlag,” and if you want to know more, check out their website http://www.atlantik-verlag.de/.
The 1995 attempt by Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Ridge to kill Mumia by his 1st execution order led to an outcry in Germany and triggered a demonstration of thousands, to be followed by other demonstrations in the course of the years and culminating in a 8,000 to 10,000 strong demonstration in Berlin in February 2000 in which I participated myself.
Hans: How and when did you first learn about Mumia?
Michael: Personally, I learned about the case in 1990 in Berlin, in one of those tiny “dark room” events where a handful of radical freaks assemble to get hold of events and developments that neither the official nor the “liberal-left” media would report. I was shocked that the war of official America against dissent was still brutal enough to resort to the death penalty, but at the same time, it was then clear that Mumia would not be executed anytime soon.
In 1997, Mumia’s then lawyer Len Weinglass toured Germany, and that was when I was confronted with it all again. At the time, I was very impressed and took extensive notes which I still have: Even then, more than nine years ago, there was so much evidence for a miscarriage of justice that I was deeply troubled.
Ironically, it was the “Academia,” i.e., the University of Heidelberg where I studied from 1995 to 2005 that spurred me into action. In 1999, in the framework of a seminar on the Civil Rights Movement I gave a paper on “The Legacy of the Black Panther Party.” One terrible legacy proved to be the dozens of men and women incarcerated for inordinate lengths of time or, as in the case of Mumia, sentenced to die. Shortly thereafter, Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Ridge signed the second execution order of that state against Mumia.
For me it was then time to act. At the time, just as most of those who were involved, I thought there would be a decision, right or wrong, within a year or so.
This didn’t happen. And once you’re involved in a life-or-death-matter such as this one, there is simply no turning back. And here I am, together with quite a few other people who have refused to simply forget and let go.
Hans: In Race Against Death you present a new witness: press photographer Pedro Polakoff (the only press photographer immediately present at the 1981 crime scene). Polakoff 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. How did you find out about him and his photos?
Michael: The story how I came across Pedro’s photos is kind of crazy. As I found out when I got into contact with him, three of his 31 original shots were published in Philly newspapers at the time. Five other ones got lost, which means that by now there is a sequence of 26 that are left. In May 2006, I found two of the photos that were published at the time on the internet – and the name of the photographer was clearly visible: Pedro Polakoff III, a name that narrowed down search options much more than had it been Jim Miller or something like that.
Guess where I found the pictures – it was on the website of former 100% MOVE adherent turned 100% MOVE hater Anthony Allen who posted them in the context of one of his endless rants against the “unrepentant cop killer” Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Since I had corresponded with Tony before (finding out in the process that the man is organically incapable to coherently answer to any argument), I asked him twice where he got these pictures from? Up to that point, our correspondence had been very wordy, but when I asked him that simple question, I didn’t even hear from him. And haven’t ever since.
But actually, tracking down Pedro turned out to be easy. My sister Annette Schiffmann, also very active in the Mumia movement, tracked down his phone number. I tracked down his e-mail address. Toward the end of May, I had my first phone conversation with him. And then, an intense e-mail exchange. And of course, after a while, I was able to see the photos.
Hans: What do you think is so significant about his photos and personal account from the scene?
Michael: In my book, I picked five of the 26 photos to show the following three points:
Beyond that, the photos show the incredible lack of care and protection that the cops applied to the crime scene. Polakoff told me that it was the worst-managed crime scene he had ever seen. And according to him, he has seen many.
So I think his photos are highly relevant, as are some of his personal observations and some of what he heard and experienced. Just on this latter point: After he took his photos and was on the scene even before the Phila Police Department’s Mobile Crime Unit and police photographer, he thought his photos might be evidence and he a witness. So he called the DA’s office and told them so, asking to get back to him on the matter.
They never did. And what’s even more amazing, he did the same in the 1990s, probably – he couldn’t really remember – in 1995, during Mumia’s 1995-97 PCRA hearings. But even though (based on the very flimsy knowledge he had of the case) he was firmly convinced that Mumia was the perpetrator in the Faulkner murder case, the District Attorney’s office once again showed no interest at all in his testimony and evidence. They never called or wrote back.
Hans: Have you told Mumia’s lawyers about Polakoff? If so are they seeking out his testimony for court?
Michael: I told Mumia’s lawyers about Polakoff as soon as I was convinced this was serious. How much of it they have been able to investigate up to now, I do not know.
At present, the case is on an altogether different level where Mumia’s attorneys are actually not litigating the facts of the December 9, 1981 killing of P.O. Daniel Faulkner, but the question whether Mumia’s conviction was constitutional, i.e., procedurally correct. Well, it was clearly not, and court precedents clearly show it, but the political pressure in Mumia’s case is enormous; otherwise, he’d have been given a new trial long ago.
What I mean is that according to the court system the factual level – did s/he do it beyond a reasonable doubt or not – is basically relevant only at the trial level, a point few people understand because it is hard to understand. From the very first appeal up to the level where Mumia is now (the Federal Court of Appeals), with very rare exceptions the question is only whether everything was “procedurally” correct. Not the “material” facts of the case.
So personally I would expect that the Polakoff evidence could play some role once Mumia gets a new trial – which of course we all hope he will. But at this point in time I don’t expect any commitment on the part of Mumia’s legal team to this or any other factual evidence, since this is not the legal stage we’re in, and they have to see to it that they have all the maneuvering space they need once Mumia’s case is newly tried.
Once this happens, which I firmly believe it will, I’m pretty sure that the shit will hit the fan for the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Rather than Mumia, some of their people should be in jail – for attempted murder, perjury in court, faking evidence, threatening, coaching and manipulating witnesses, and other crimes.
Hans: In your book, you note that there are no cement chunks shot out near where Faulkner supposedly got shot while on his back – as you present this in your book it seems so obvious. Why do you think this has never really been pointed out by other writers/analysts?
Michael: Actually, I can’t understand why no one has gone into this before. One must credit defense investigators Rachel Wolkenstein and Jonathan Piper for digging into this at the end of the 1990s – it seems that they were the ones who assembled this material. Why no one else pointed that out before remains something of a mystery. It seems to me that the cops and the prosecution succeeded in enmeshing this case in such a cocoon of outrageous lies that the obvious was just overlooked.
Even though we already knew that prosecution witnesses Cynthia White and Robert Chobert were susceptible to police pressure, and there is all this evidence showing that White was indeed pressured and that Chobert lied, by now the absence of any bullet traces or bullets in the sidewalk in front of 1234 Locust is irrefutable physical evidence that these two, plus prosecution witness Michael Scanlan who essentially gave the same version of the final shots ending up in the killing of Officer Faulkner, did not tell the truth at Mumia’s trial. And why did all three people tell basically the same untrue story? The answer seems all too clear.
Why this story, a potential journalistic humdinger, continues to be overlooked and why no aggressive investigative reporter has taken this up since it was publicly revealed in 2001 is even harder to determine, since 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.
I have always wondered why this didn’t figure in Dave Lindorff’s November 2002 book Killing Time, which is very good and rigorous in almost any other respect.
My own impression, and that is just a guess, is that since this new evidence was first published in 2001 in connection with a new “confession” by one Arnold Beverly who claimed that he, not Mumia Abu-Jamal, killed Police Officer Faulkner, practically everyone dropped these important observations in order not to be connected with the Beverly testimony, which most people found unbelievable.
You will find more on my take on Beverly’s testimony below. Regardless of whether it is true or not, it has played an unnecessarily divisive role, in my view.
Hans: Any chance the holes could be covered up by Faulkner's blood?
Michael: The divots in the sidewalk, all the chunks that would have had to have been broken out etc. – there is just no way that these could have been covered by the blood – Faulkner’s, Mumia’s, or anyone else’s that flowed on the scene. The press photographer, Pedro Polakoff, who I discovered shortly before I published the German edition of my book, 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.
I also talked to a veteran ballistician who had worked in the Medical Examiner’s Office in a town in Germany for thirty years, much of the time in a senior position, and he, too, told me that such divots could impossibly have been overlooked: They were simply not there.
Hans: By noting this about the cement, you then use this to rule out testimony from White, Chobert, and Scanlan (the only ones to have testified to seeing Faulkner shot lying on his back). In light of this, do you think Robert Harkins’ testimony (that Faulkner was shot on his knees) corresponds with this? Should his account now be seriously considered?
Michael: Well, actually Harkins also says that the shot that killed Faulkner was fired while the latter was lying on his back. The difference is in how it all began. White and Scanlan have the shooter coming from the parking lot, firing into Faulkner’s back. Harkins has him wrestle with the cop on the sidewalk, with the cop going down on all fours, the shooter standing over him and shooting him in the back, and Faulkner then rolling over after which the shooter fires two additional shots.
Robert Harkins’ account should certainly enter into any full equation, as should any testimony relevant in any way. But you may have noted that all the same, it is not even mentioned in my book. For one thing, there was some friendly haggling with my publisher who wanted a 240-page book and finally ended up with a 320-page volume. But to be honest, there was also some material I left out in order to get the story line straight and to avoid bringing in too much material that in my view doesn’t do much to clarify matters but adds to the confusion of the readers.
I know that some people (including some I highly respect) see much in Harkins’ story, but to me, altogether it really doesn’t seem to fit very well.
Going into the details, there is one element in it that I’m pretty sure is true, namely a physical scuffle between the shooter and Faulkner, because otherwise there is no plausible explanation how Faulkner could have been shot from both behind him and in front of him, which he definitely was (apart from the bullet wound in his head, there was a hole in the upper left shoulder of his police jacket, a fact that has remained virtually unknown to this day).
On the other hand, Harkins’ story has no explanation for the bullets and bullet traces found in and around the entrance of 1234 Locust, including the vestibule of that building. Even more troubling is that traces of the bullet that he says hit Faulkner’s back while he was on all fours in the sidewalk should have been found in that very sidewalk. The same goes for the bullet from the second of the shots that according to his account were fired after Faulkner had rolled over: the bullet that missed him. But we now know there were no bullets there. From what I can determine from the photo’s taken by P. Polakoff, there are also none a little further East on the sidewalk, where the bullet fired into Faulkner’s back should be if Harkins’ account were altogether true.
Moreover, Dan Williams has a very interesting account of the Harkins testimony which shows that not all of it can be true. He writes: “The autopsy [of Faulkner] established that the bullet exited through the throat, knocking of Faulkner’s clip-on tie” (Executing Justice, p. 360; emphasis mine). In his book (Killing Time, p. 220), Dave Lindorff has the same “blew off his clip-on tie” bit. Actually, the Faulkner autopsy didn’t literally establish that the bullet that entered Faulkner’s back and exited through his throat knocked off his tie. But based on findings first collected by Wolkenstein/Piper and others, I think that scenario is very likely. Faulkner’s clip-on tie, however, wasn’t found on the sidewalk near 1234 Locust, but instead, close to the intersection of 13th and Locust Street – i.e. in a totally different direction!
Thus from the ballistic evidence, I believe that the shot in Faulkner’s back was fired from the position where the probable passenger in Billy Cooks car, Kenneth Freeman, would have been after exiting the car, and that it was fired in the direction of the 13th and Locust intersection (where the bullet got lost because no one looked for it in that area).
We must also remember that Harkins made his observation from a taxi where he was driving East in the direction of 12th Street. Not necessarily a good observation post. He also says he didn’t stop, understandably because he didn’t want to be the next person shot.
Hans: What is the importance of Harkins’ testimony?
Michael: The importance is that he told a story the prosecution did not like because it was at odds with the stories of the prosecution’s other witnesses – so in their “quest for the truth” (to which the prosecution is theoretically also committed) they simply dropped the story. And both Williams and Lindorff correctly point out that Harkins’ account of the shooting is hardly compatible with Mumia being the shooter, even though at the 1995 PCRA hearing Harkins said – for the first time! – that the shooter stumbled a few feet and then slumped on the sidewalk. This description fits Mumia perfectly, but is at odds with the rest of his testimony: How could he see the shooter slump down when he was in a hurry to leave the scene in order to avoid getting shot?
He also said he heard three shots, but from other witnesses we know that there were probably five. How did the shooter, slumped down at the curb of the sidewalk, get them off? Did he shoot them in the air?
There is too much here that doesn’t scan. I believe the “the shooter slumped down on the curb” bit is a creative add-on Harkins introduced into his 1995 PCRA testimony in order to be left alone by the cops who knew his criminal record as a child molester. As for the rest, I believe it is just a typical example of ordinary confusion once you’re asked to testify to events. Experiments have clearly shown that most people aren’t even able to recount the right sequence of critical events.
Hans: Your analysis of the bullet (and fragments) evidence found at the scene is very bold and original. No one else has ever really attempted to explain these contradictions in the police/prosecution account. Why do you feel so confident about your analysis?
Michael: Thanks for the praise. Why do I feel confident? I wrote the bulk of this book in about fourteen weeks but spent close to three and a half years researching chapter eight (which contains the material we are presently discussing). There was a fair amount of trial and error and there were hypotheses that I finally had to dump because they turned out not to be tenable. I think what I say now in the book is as rigorous as you can get without being a professional CSI, which of course I don’t have the means for.
No divots in the sidewalk and Faulkner’s tie at the intersection 13th and Locust – that is actually something I can’t take credit for. It was in the 2001 defense filings, accompanying documentary material then defense lawyer Eliot Grossman was friendly enough to send me, and corroborating additional material.
1: Ford parked in front of VW; 2: Billy Cook’s VW; 3: Faulkner’s police squad car RPC 610. The "x"-marks from left to right: * entry location of bullet fragment found inside the vestibule of 1234 Locust * copper bullet jacket on sidewalk * whole bullet found in frame of entrance door * 7 very small lead fragments found in lower wall (next to the hood of Faulkner's police car).
4: Mumia’s car; 5: Scanlan’s car. à = trajectory of bullet inside vestibule; arrow from 4: Mumia approaching the scene. Note that Mumia’s direction is in contradiction to the bullet trajectory and the fragments found in the wall. Schiffmann says Faulkner was more likely shot in the back by someone standing on the curb next to Billy Cook’s car (2), with the bullet traveling in Northwestern direction toward the intersection 13th and Locust after exiting Faulkner’s body.
My most important own original contribution is an analysis of the question: Given the gunshot traces found at the scene, was it even possible for Mumia (coming from the parking lot vis a vis 1234 Locust) to have started the shoot-out by shooting Faulkner in the back?
It is my firm conclusion that that was not possible. Mumia didn’t start the shooting. Mumia was the one who was shot first in the course of the events, which explains why two months after the events, he wrote angrily:
“It is nightmarish that my brother and I should be in this foul predicament, particularly since my main accusers, the police, were my attackers as well. My true crime seems to have survived that night, for we were the victims that night.” (“A Christmas Cage,” in Refuse & Resist, Resource Book on the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, p. 6).
Hans: What are the key points of this original analysis that you want readers to know about?
Michael: The first key point in terms of the actual events on December 9, 1981 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).
The second key point is (with regard to this I list not just one, but several arguments) that it is very unlikely that Mumia even took his gun out of its holster during that fateful night. Actually, there is even conclusive evidence now that the police destroyed possible fingerprints on Mumia’s weapon at least negligently.
What if this destruction of evidence (shown on the pictures of press photographer Pedro Polakoff) 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 Actual Shooter?
Hans: Why do you feel that Kenneth Freeman is the one most likely to have killed Faulkner?
Michael: There is indeed a lot of evidence that points to Freeman as the killer. To begin with, six witnesses have said, at various times, that they saw one or more persons get away from the scene in Eastern direction, that is, in the direction of 12th Street.
The first person to say this was actually prosecution witness Robert Chobert who in his first statement after the shooting said that the shooter ran 30 to 35 steps and then fell. Now that equals 30 to 35 yards (a considerable distance) and actually excludes Mumia – who was found right at the scene. At the trial, Chobert changed the distance the shooter ran to ten feet, i.e., reduced it by a factor of ten, a transparent absurdity. And even then, it is still incompatible with the shooter being Mumia, since Chobert claimed the shooter stood right over the prone Faulkner and fired at him at point black range. If the shooter had been Mumia, he wouldn’t have run at all, since Mumia was found right next to the dead Faulkner.
My take on this is that Chobert who (as we now know) was not parked behind Faulkner’s squad car but probably (as he told defense investigator George Michael Newman in 1995) on the Eastern side of 13th Street to the North of the 13th & Locust intersection, did not see the shooting but indeed saw its aftermath, i.e., he indeed saw a man run away. When questioned by the police (and I guess he must have clearly felt they wanted him to finger Mumia) he had to have the running man fall in order to reconcile his observation with the fact that the man he identified was in police custody. But there was still this glaring gap between Mumia having been found right at the scene and a man who ran 30 to 35 yards, and so his testimony had to be changed.
Now this is not in the book since I wanted to base my account just on plain, proven facts as much as I could and didn’t want to overburden it with speculations, even though some speculations, clearly indicated as such, were inevitable since we simply do not know all the facts – mostly because the cops screwed up all the evidence.
Hans: And the others who saw a third person run away before the police arrived?
Michael: You have Dessie Hightower, who according to Dave Lindorff (who interviewed him for his book) is rock-solid to this day that he saw a person run away in Eastern direction.
Third, there is witness Deborah Kordansky who had a good vantage point from an elevated hotel room a good deal to the North of the scene with a sort of panorama view. She also saw a person run in that direction, but prosecutor McGill and Judge Sabo, as usual, collaborated in preventing the defense from calling or even interviewing her.
At the 1995 PCRA hearing, the prosecution made much of the fact that Kordansky was not really clear about the timing of the events, i.e., about whether the man ran before, during, or after the arrival of the cops. But on this, for one thing remember what I said before about the nature of eyewitness testimony, particularly under stress. But what’s more, had the prosecution applied the rigorous standard they applied to Kordansky’s testimony to their own witnesses, their case would have fallen apart right from the beginning.
Then you have Veronica Jones who initially told the police she saw two men run away, sort of jogging. Who were these men? One more bit of speculation that is not in the book: Interestingly, in his initial testimony, Chobert had also reported two men run away, and according to him the second man was also caught by the police. I think the two men were Kenneth Freeman and Mumia’s brother Billy, and while Ken Freeman continued to run and eventually escaped, Billy couldn’t bring himself to leave his brother there hanging out on a limb and ended up being caught.
As we know from her later testimony (and there is no reason to doubt it), at the trial Jones denied having seen anything because the police had applied extreme pressure to her. But even so, she blurted out that the police had also pressured her to tell the same story as the prosecution’s star witness Cynthia White, something she said she could not do. In another stunning display of judicial bias, Judge Sabo prevented Mumia’s lawyer from finding out more about this. This was a crucial moment in the trial which under normal circumstances should have ended up in an enormous backlash for the prosecution.
Then you have William Singletary according to whose very credible testimony – and this part of his testimony is credible – the police prevented him from testifying in 1981/1982. In testimony in 1990 and then at the 1995 PCRA hearing, Singletary specifically said he saw the shooter run away. There are some known difficulties with his testimony (he claimed to have heard Faulkner, who was already dead, speak and claimed to have seen a helicopter at the scene), but again, there have been even stranger distortions of actual events in the history of eyewitness testimony.
Finally, you have one Marcus Cannon who was ready to testify at the 1997 PCRA hearing, also claiming to have seen a man run away. He, too, was blocked from testifying by Albert F. Sabo. Kordansky, Jones, Cannon: these three examples should already be enough to expose what an awful and sick kind of a “judge” Mr. Sabo was.
So we have not one, two, or three, but six people who saw at least one person run away in Eastern direction.
Hans: Why do you think this third person was Freeman?
Michael: As to the identity of that person, there is the 1995 PCRA testimony by Arnold Howard whose license application was found in the dead officer’s clothing – a fact that had been concealed from the defense for 13 years. Howard (who had an alibi) testified that he had loaned the application to none other than Kenneth Freeman. Why Freeman needed this is unclear to this day. Perhaps as false identification because he though the cops were after him for some reason?
But it seems clear that Billy Cook cannot have been the one who gave Faulkner Howard’s license application since Cook was never accused of having used false identification papers that night, even though that would have made it much easier to convict him in his own March 1982 trial on charge of aggravated assault.
Moreover, Billy Cook’s attorney Daniel Alva told Dave Lindorff in the course of the latter’s research for 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.
Coming back to my own analysis of the ballistic evidence at the crime scene, 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). And here, the interesting thing is that the tie was found nowhere at or near the building 1234 Locust where it should have been found had Mumia fired that shot in Faulkner’s back, but 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.
This is indeed one of the central tenets of my analysis: The shot that hit Faulkner in the back was not fired by someone coming from the parking lot, i.e., not Mumia, but by someone on the sidewalk – and that is exactly the position where a, or the, passenger of the VW (by all available accounts none other than Freeman) would have been.
Hans: Any response to Lindorff's book (page 233) where he says that Freeman's behavior is “odd” for someone who’d just killed a cop, because he “never left town” in spite of police intimidation?
Michael: Lindorff’s observation about oddities is quite correct – there are still many loose ends in this case, and there is no use in plastering these over. Rather, we must be honest about this.
As for Freeman’s behavior, my own explanation would be that Freeman had few if any feelings of guilt about what he had done. According to Linn Washington (who knew him and who I interviewed at length about him), Freeman harbored “an enormous amount of anger against the police.” If my analysis is correct (and I very strongly believe it is with regard to this point), Faulkner started the shootout by shooting Mumia in the chest and almost killing him, after he had beaten Freeman’s close friend Billy bloody. I therefore think Freeman saw himself as acting in justified self-defense.
According to witnesses like the very believable Dessie Hightower and his companion Robert Pigford, who heard the thing, the whole shooting cannot have lasted longer than a few seconds. The question of “intent to kill” (the all-important criterion for murder according to Pennsylvania law) very probably never entered Freeman’s mind as he fired away in order to protect his friend Billy, Mumia, and not least himself. That may explain some if not all of his defiant behavior after someone (probably the cops) burned down his and Billy’s sales stand a few days after the shooting, and his not leaving town. Nonetheless, in his shoes I would have been frightened out of my wits.
Hans: Lindorff asks, since he was dead in 1985, why wouldn't Billy Cook have fingered him earlier?
Michael: The other oddity mentioned by Lindorff remains just that – odd. Actually, to me Billy Cook’s behavior during the long years this case has been dragging on is the biggest oddity of them all. If I were him, I would shout it from the rooftops that Freeman was the perpetrator. Fear is probably the most sensible explanation, but it definitely remains strange.
The other thing is that by 1995, Freeman did appear on the screen, and everyone close to the case begun to harbor the suspicion that he was the man who was seen running away from the scene by so many people. It was also implicit and sometimes explicit in everything the defense did. Immediately after Freeman’s death in 1985, however, I think both Billy and Mumia simply saw no leverage to bring this issue into the case.
At that time, both Mumia and his brother were in quite a quandary with regard to Freeman. May 13, 1985, the day 11 MOVE members and children were incinerated, was apparently the same day Kenneth Freeman was also killed, and there are strong indications (never disproved or even really contradicted by the prosecution in Mumia’s case) that he was killed by cops. During the 1995 PCRA hearings, witness Arnold Howard indicated as much when he said that Ken Freeman was found dead, “handcuffed and shot up [with drugs] and dumped up on Grink's lot on Roosevelt Boulevard buck naked” (my emphasis).
If Freeman was indeed killed by cops, the killing may very well have been part of a general vendetta of the Philadelphia cops against their “enemies” during which the cops would have killed him because they knew or suspected he had something to do with the killing of Faulkner.
At the time, few people in the U.S., let alone internationally, knew much about Mumia’s case. Mumia’s main support base, MOVE, had just been viciously attacked, with 11 MOVE people including five children murdered. In that contact, it may simply have seemed totally hopeless to raise the claim that it was Freeman who had killed Faulkner. It would probably have been dismissed out of hand as the typical “aha, dead man takes the fall” defense.
Moreover (as already mentioned above, but this is very important for people to know right now), the appeals a defendant has after his or her conviction are basically about procedure, not about the facts of the case. This is exactly what makes prosecutor Joseph McGill’s statement to the jury according to which Mumia would have “appeal after appeal after appeal” so toxic and mendacious. The members of the trial jury are supposed to be the judges of the facts of the case, not the appeals courts. That means that during an appeal, it is not sufficient to bring in evidence that someone else did it, but you must also show that this evidence was unlawfully prevented from being placed before the trial jury. To prove that, you have to do a lot of investigative work, and in 1985, Mumia and his few supporters simply didn’t have the material means to do that.
As a final point on this question, it may also have been an emotional thing. Given what I said above about how I believe it happened, Billy and Mumia might have felt that actually Freeman saved them from being killed by Faulkner. That may have made them hesitant to taint him with the stigma of being a “cop killer,” even posthumously.
Hans: Have you heard about Ken Freeman's brother calling and threatening Weinglass from prison?
Michael: I did hear about that threatening call to Len Weinglass from several sources, Pam (who told us about it in 2001 or 2002) also among them. I have thus no doubt that it took place. But I think the true nature of what happened may have been misunderstood. That Weinglass gave in to such a call because he was personally threatened by Freeman’s brother simply makes no sense. For one thing, I find this unimaginable from what I know about Weinglass. People may dismiss this as personal opinion, but what is more, if this call was simply about a threat to him, all he had to do was call a press conference and make the threat public. “Defense Lawyer Killed/Hurt After Threat was Made” would have been the headline had anyone done anything to Weinglass; the conclusions would have been obvious, and Freeman’s brother would have achieved the opposite of what he wanted to achieve.
I believe that the real target of that threat was Billy Cook who apparently lived in a precarious, much more unprotected situation and whose death, in case something happened to him, could have been attributed to any variety of causes. We also shouldn’t forget that he, not Weinglass, was the one able to testify that Freeman was with him on December 9, 1981, and from there, was a much more logical target than Weinglass.
Hans: Where does Arnold Beverly's confession come into all of this? Do you feel his account is credible?
Michael: Above I mentioned that in the process of writing about what actually happened on December 9, 1981, in part I went through a trial and error process, and the Beverly confession is one example of this. What I handed in as M.A. thesis on April 1, 2003, and later on, unchanged, as my Ph.D. thesis was basically the current book minus chapter eight. The last part of chapter seven was on the 2001-2003 defense claims that Arnold Beverly was the one who shot and killed Daniel Faulkner.
At the time, I believed that the Beverly account of the events at the crime scene made sense and was true, and that was reflected in what I wrote in that section of my book. Actually, one year earlier, in April 2002, together with my sister Annette and Jürgen Heiser of the Atlantik Verlag, I had co-edited a book called Free Mumia, a collection of documents, analyses and background reports which assembled some of the 2001/2002 defense affidavits, gave some background on the 2001 change in the defense team, Mumia’s situation in 2002, police brutality in the United States, and the international movement to save and free Mumia. But the core of that book was an analysis in which I tried to show why the Beverly story should be taken seriously and why we believed it was true.
For one thing, there was this incredible amount of police brutality and corruption in the United States in general and in Philadelphia in particular. Just to give an example, in New Orleans – now of new Katrina disastrous disaster management notoriety – between 1993 and 1998, at least 50 cops of the 1,400 strong police force were arrested for crimes ranging from armed robbery and rape to murder, and significantly, one of the guys was convicted for hiring a contract killer to murder a woman who was about to testify against the cop in a brutality charge.
Second, apart from Beverly’s affidavit and Mumia’s and Billy’s accounts of what they remembered, there were the affidavits by Linn Washington about how he found no protection of the crime scene when he visited it about 4 hours after the events, and even more importantly, the long affidavit by brothel owner turned FBI spy Donald Hersing, containing very intriguing insights about how nightlife in Center City was skimmed off by a racket of corrupt cops.
And third, there was the fact that this new confession came in the context of new defense evidence that was incontrovertibly true, such as the bit about the missing bullets in the sidewalk. The observation about Faulkner’s police tie which was found in a totally different place from where it should have been had the prosecution’s version of the events been even remotely true was also first made public in that context.
So at the time I thought, there are strong arguments for this, Mumia seems to believe it, his lawyers are very confident and will probably add more to the story in the fullness of time, and so we should go with this.
But there were early skeptics such as Linn Washington, who Annette and I talked to in September 2001, Dave Lindorff, and I think it would not be unfair to say Clark Kissinger, even though Clark never went public, and by now I think these skeptics were right. Why this change? The answer is that in the meantime, I have had much more time to think things through really rigorously, and once you take the counter arguments not as just that, arguments to be countered but arguments to be addressed, the Beverly story begins to unravel.
For one thing, and this is far from trivial, no one saw Beverly flee from the scene. Now we know what to think of the “witnesses” White, Chobert, and Scanlan, but what about the other witnesses? Albert Magilton is not as tainted as the other prosecution witnesses, and never said he saw Beverly. Well, maybe Magilton was also manipulated by the police, but what about Dessie Hightower and his companion that night, Robert Pigford, and William Singletary and Debbie Kordansky? The where all excellently placed to see Beverly run to one of the tube entrances and disappear, yet none of them reported any such thing.
Then there is the whole scenario. You certainly remember me quoting Linn Washington in the book who when we talked to him in 2001 already told us “If they wanted Faulkner out of the way that badly, why didn’t they just pop him?” The scenario Beverly describes is certainly not one I would resort to if I wanted to kill a fellow cop: Far too many people in the know, to many imponderables in its planned execution, and far too much traffic, pedestrian and otherwise. Four o’clock in the morning was the time when the last patrons left the night clubs (or went there to stay, illegally, but enabled to do so because the owners bribed the cops), which is why Mumia was there with his cab in the first place. Then there is the question why the cops waited three and a half years to kill Freeman and never killed Beverly, even though they had ample opportunity to do so, with the guy going in and out of jail for close to two decades?
There is more stuff where I think the arguments for considering the Beverly account of the events correct simply do not hold up, but I won’t make this already long interview make even longer here. Let me just add that the additional information on Beverly I had expected was not coming. With regard to his version of the events, we basically don’t know much more than we knew in 2001. I might also add that in my discussion of the issue, I have used only public or non-confidential sources, so there is actually more that I didn’t even bring in. All the same, based on these non-confidential, public sources alone, I come to the conclusion that the Beverly story is “too contradictory to be tenable.”
And as an aside it is of course also impossible to overlook the fact that Beverly figures in none of the filings of the new defense team lead, since August 2003, by Robert R. Bryan. Robert joined the defense even earlier and is certainly second to none in his knowledge about the factual and legal issues in this case. According to what I recently learned, Bryan has by now also publicly disassociated himself from the Beverly confession.
To conclude on my own take on the matter, you will have noted that the section on Beverly is titled “The fourth man – pro and contra,” and I have tried hard to give both sides in the issue a fair hearing. So even though I come clearly out on one side, my wording is deliberately cautious. The Beverly issue has played an unnecessarily divisive role in the past, often distracting 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.
At the same time, I have all due respect for those who think otherwise, people I consider personal friends among them, and I think with regard to this, we should draw a lesson from the many years of “the struggle for the life and freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal” – the subtitle of the original English version of my book –, a struggle which I have also studied closely: The movement has always been at its strongest when the people participating in it managed, and were given a chance, to display the ability to agree to disagree, even on important matters.
Lindorff and Williams
Hans: Besides above mentioned facts, are there other ways your book differs from Dan Williams’ Executing Justice (2001) and Dave Lindorff's Killing Time (2003)?
Michael: Yes, there are. Some people will be taken aback, but I think that both of these books are very good. I don’t agree with Dan William’s decision to publish his book without the consent of his client, but the assertion that some have made that Williams pronounces his former client guilty in the book is clearly false. Both Williams and Lindorff clearly come out on the side of Mumia’s innocence. Both books contain a wealth of material to prove this point.
Whether we like this or that point about one or the other of these two books is not relevant – I think we should consider them as a treasure trove containing evidence that what was going on in Mumia’s conviction and appeals process was a monumental frame-up! That said, I think there are three main differences.
The first one is that of course inevitably Williams’ and Lindorff’s books are dated in comparison to mine since Williams book was published in April 2001 and Lindorff’s in November 2002.
More importantly, my book offers a different general framework because it is not a book just about Mumia. My take from the start was, why is Mumia important? The answer: because of the larger legal, political, and social issues his case is inextricably tied to. From there, I investigate U.S. constitutional tradition, the history of the Civil Rights and Black Power movement, the horrendous history of city development in the U.S.A. tragically exemplified in Philadelphia, Mumia’s extraordinary – yet typical – history of a Black youth alienated by the false promises the United States “offered” him as a young man of the wrong color, and finally, the development of the U.S. into a virtual police state for many segments of the population.
Right from the start, my intention was to say what Mumia has always said: This is not about him, but rather: an injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us.
The third point is what cost me so much time since 2003: I tried to pin down the real facts as precisely as possible. My advantage over Williams and Lindorff in this was that I wrote a footnoted book from the start: Race Against Death started as an M.A. and was elevated (unchanged) to a Ph.D. thesis before it was published.
Right from the get-go I was determined not to write this as the typical boring academic tract that puts everyone to sleep but rather as something I would eventually be able to publish to Mumia’s benefit. I operated in the best of all worlds, feeling free to write this as literature while always taking care to solidly prove everything I said and claimed.
When author, playwright, and long-time political activist Tariq Ali wrote about a previous version of the book that it was “scientific and readable,” I felt as vindicated as when Noam Chomsky (who I’ve been in contact with for many years) wrote me that Race Against Death was a “careful and scrupulous inquiry into the events and the available evidence, bringing to light much that is new or was obscured,” an inquiry that “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.”
Summarizing this, I think all those who want to support Mumia in whatever way and on whatever level should pool resources. We are in the final battle where we need everyone. There is my book, Lindorff’s, Williams’, and a host of evidence collected by nameless people over the course of many years who did the footwork but are never mentioned. How much more evidence is needed for Mumia’s death sentence and conviction to be overturned?
Hans: Anything else you’d like to add?
Michael: Mumia is still alive. With respect to that, we did it!
Back in 2000, I talked with a U.S. lawyer who (as an opponent) took part in a discussion of the death penalty in the U.S. at our local German-American Institute. I asked him about Mumia and whether he had heard about the case. He said that even though he wasn’t close to the case, he had heard much about it and was sure the state would have executed Mumia a long time ago had it not been for the movement to prevent just that.
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!
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:
His website is www.againstthecrimeofsilence.de.
Hans Bennett is a Philadelphia-based photo-journalist who has been documenting the movement to free Mumia and all political prisoners for over 5 years. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.insubordination.blogspot.com