The title says it all: Longtime investigative reporter and Crime Magazine editor and publisher O’Connor argues that the best-known death-row inmate of our time was set up.
An advocacy journalist well regarded in Philadelphia and beyond for his interviewing skills, perhaps destined for fame as a news anchor or writer, Mumia Abu-Jamal “had never been known for violence.” Indeed, writes O’Connor, he had been a peace activist while a student at ultraliberal Goddard College and was seemingly on the path to becoming a Rastafarian ascetic when he was charged with the December 9, 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal admittedly carried a gun; a part-time cab driver since being fired from a public radio station for his unscripted political commentary, Mumia had twice been robbed and was concerned for his safety. Connected by several threads to the “back-to-nature group MOVE,” which had drawn the ire and bullets of Philadelphia police during the Frank Rizzo years, Abu-Jamal was framed, perhaps to keep him from looking too deeply into police counterintelligence operations. The police investigation was incomplete, confused and much-revised, and the forensics were improbable: Detained, Abu-Jamal was supposed to have been on the ground below Faulkner, but the first bullet to strike hit the officer in the back. Moreover, writes O’Connor, “It would not come out until trial that the police had not bothered to run any tests of Abu-Jamal’s hands or clothing to determine if he had fired a gun or even if [his] .38 had been fired.” Such tests being commonplace at shooting scenes, O’Connor advances the view that the results did not fit the setup and were discarded. Compounding all this, O’Connor then enumerates, was flawed physical evidence, a biased judge, perjured testimony and a district attorney known as the “ ‘Queen of Death’ because of her zeal for seeking the death penalty,” particularly for black capital offenders.
O’Connor sets forth a careful, well-constructed argument. Whether it changes minds one way or the other remains to be seen, but, he urges, it is time for a new trial.