December 9

This Day in History

Crime

Dec 9, 1981:

Policeman Daniel Faulkner found dead

Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner is found dead on the street with Mumia Abu-Jamal, a well-known activist and freelance journalist, lying severely wounded nearby. In 1982, Abu-Jamal was tried for and convicted of Faulkner's murder, but because of the murky circumstances surrounding the incident and a trial that many believe was unfair, activists have since protested Abu-Jamal's imprisonment.

Reportedly, Abu-Jamal, a journalist who had been fired by National Public Radio for his outspokenness, was driving a cab at around 4 a.m., when he saw his brother engaged in an altercation with Faulkner on the street. Evidence used in the trial suggested that Abu-Jamal intervened with a gun and then exchanged shots with Faulkner.

From the beginning, many felt Abu-Jamal's trial was unfair. Despite the fact that he was critically wounded, the trial began just six months after the shooting, on June 17, 1982. It lasted until July 3, but Abu-Jamal was so weak that he couldn't attend much of it. The prosecution used its peremptory challenges to limit the jury to two blacks, with 10 white members, and some observers felt that Judge Albert Sabo was biased against the defendant. Abu-Jamal asked to represent himself and was nominally allowed to do so, though he was forced to retain a court-appointed attorney as "back-up counsel" and was excluded from the voir dire because the court claimed his questions to the jurors were intimidating.

When the trial ended, Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for first-degree murder. Many believed that although there was a possibility that Abu-Jamal was involved in Faulkner's death, the sentence was overly harsh. While in prison, Abu-Jamal has written several books and made many radio appearances advocating an end to racism. He has also lobbied for a new trial.

Pressure to release Abu-Jamal from his impending execution has become stronger over time, despite the fact that some people firmly maintain he is guilty. The New Jersey governor, several police organizations and Faulkner's widow protested a January 1999 "Free Mumia" benefit concert featuring Rage Against the Machine in New Jersey.

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