Excerpt from the book The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal
A Cause Celebre
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row since 1982. Over the years, as a result of his prison writings, the former radio reporter who prided himself on being "the voice of the voiceless" has attracted an astonishing level of national and international support that has turned the "Free Mumia" movement into the cause celebre of all 3,600 death-row cases in the United States. The Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police and the slain officer's widow, Maureen Faulkner, doggedly lead the “Fry Mumia” side of the controversy.
In December of 2001 U.S. District Court Judge William H. Yohn Jr. overturned Abu-Jamal's death sentence, evoking images of Solomon's decision to cut the baby in half. While Judge Yohn's controversial decision erased the death sentence that had hung over Abu-Jamal for almost 20 years, that was all it did. Judge Yohn's ruling denied the 20 other defense claims of constitutional violations set forth in Abu-Jamal's habeas corpus petition, thus upholding Abu-Jamal's conviction for murdering Officer Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981. Overturning Abu-Jamal's death sentence would normally have meant that Abu-Jamal would have been taken off death row and placed among the regular prison population for the duration of the appeal process. But in a particularly spiteful maneuver, Philadelphia D.A. Lynne Abraham requested that Judge Yohn stay the order lifting Abu-Jamal's death sentence. The judge agreed. As a result, Abu-Jamal – who turned54 on April 24, 2008 – remains on death row 22 to 23 hours a day on weekdays and 24 hours a day on weekends in a cell at the super-max State Correctional Institute in Greene, Pa., 50 miles south of Pittsburgh on the border of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. He is allowed approved visitors for one two-hour period per week, but must speak with them, in handcuffs, from behind one-inch thick Plexiglas.
In rendering his 272-page decision, Judge Yohn left the door open a crack for another federal appeal by certifying one of the claims advanced in Abu-Jamal’s habeas corpus petition. If Judge Yohn had not certified that one claim, Abu-Jamal’s appeals, for all practical purposes, would have been over. Barring an unlikely intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court or an even more unlikely clemency by a future governor of Pennsylvania, Abu-Jamal would spend the rest of his life in prison.
All that changed radically on Dec. 6, 2005 when a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued an order to hear arguments from Abu-Jamal’s new defense team on the claim certified by Judge Yohn as well as two others raised by the defense and one by the state.
Abu-Jamal’s new attorneys – led by Robert R. Bryan of San Francisco – appealed, as they were entitled to, the one claim Judge Yohn certified, but added several other claims of constitutional violations arising from Abu-Jamal’s trial and his Post- Conviction Relief Act hearing held in 1995 that they hoped the appeals court would consider. In a stunning victory for the defense, the Third Circuit agreed to hear arguments on two of those additional claims. One concerns the prosecutor’s summation to the jury during the guilt phase of the trial and the other the alleged bias of the judge who presided at Abu-Jamal’s post-conviction proceedings, Common Pleas Court Judge Albert Sabo, who was also Abu-Jamal’s original trial judge.
The claim that Judge Yohn had certified for appeal in 2001, known as a Batson claim, pertained to the prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to exclude blacks from the jury.
The Third Circuit also agreed to hear the prosecution claim challenging Judge Yohn’s overturning Abu-Jamal’s death sentence.
Robert Bryan, Abu-Jamal’s lead defense attorney, called the Third Circuit’s order “the most important decision affecting my client, Mumia Abu-Jamal, since the lower federal court ruling in December 2001,” revoking Abu-Jamal’s death sentence. Bryan, with over 35-years of experience in litigating death-penalty cases, said all three defense claims “are of enormous constitutional significance and go to the very essence of Mumia’s right to a fair trial, due process of law, and equal protection under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.” Hugh Burns, the Philadelphia D.A.’s office appellate chief, called the order a “major blow.”
The blow was so major that, after over 25 years on death row, the probability of Abu-Jamal being granted a new trial is now high. Two of the claims the appellate court agreed to hear regard prima facie violations of Abu-Jamal’s constitutional rights. At Abu-Jamal’s trial Prosecutor Joseph McGill told the jury in his summation that if they found Abu-Jamal guilty of first-degree murder that "there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final." This type of language undermines the jury’s need to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He brazenly said this despite the fact that in an earlier capital case when he had used similar language to coax a jury to a death-sentence verdict with Judge Sabo presiding, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had overturned the verdict. (McGill used nearly the same language during the sentencing phase of Abu-Jamal’s trial when he successfully argued for the imposition of the death penalty.)
On the other claim, the Batson claim, McGill did use at least 10 and most likely 11 preemptory challenges to exclude blacks from serving on Abu-Jamal’s jury. In a city with a black population of 44 percent at the time of Abu-Jamal’s trial, only three blacks were impaneled. One of those was dismissed – for violating jury sequestration – by Judge Sabo after the first day of testimony and replaced by a white male.
The other claim, that Judge Sabo was biased against Abu-Jamal during his Post-Conviction Relief Act hearings, is a judgment call the appellate court judges will make based on the transcripts from those proceedings and the briefs filed by opposing counsel on the issue. If the judges were to find such bias, amply demonstrated by Judge Sabo throughout the hearings, they could order those hearings reopened. Those hearings could well lead to a new trial for Abu-Jamal on numerous other grounds that Abu-Jamal’s new defense team could introduce there. And there will be no Judge Sabo presiding at these hearings. He died in 2002.
Who Killed Officer Daniel Faulkner?
That Abu-Jamal's trial was, in so many different ways, a travesty of justice is irrefutable to his legions of supporters. And they are right: His trial was riddled with so many types of judicial and prosecutorial abuses that it was a sham from beginning to end. Judge Yohn's failure to overturn Abu-Jamal's conviction on legal and constitutional grounds in 2001 merely extended the sham.
But did Abu-Jamal murder Faulkner?
One of the most perplexing aspects of the Abu-Jamal case – for many of his supporters and all of his detractors – is that Abu-Jamal, in all his books and articles, radio essays, and his infrequent interviews with reporters, never gave his version of what happened the night Faulkner was killed. Not doing so was partly the advice of his counsel at the time, but mostly it seemed to stem from his conviction that because he was denied the right to represent himself at his murder trial that he would only tell his version of the events at a retrial in front of a jury of his peers. Another theory, advanced in a biography of Abu-Jamal written by Terry Bisson and published in 2000 entitled On a Move: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal, is that Faulkner shot him as he approached and he blacked out. The biography picks up the account just after Abu-Jamal got out of his taxi to come to his brother's aid.
He ran across the street. Was he yelling? He doesn't know. Doesn't remember.
The cop was facing him. He never heard a sound, but he knew he had been shot because something lifted him off the ground, almost gently, and he was in the air.
He knew. As a [Black] Panther he had expected it, imagined it, for years. It was almost anti-climatic. He waited for the sound. Then he saw the pavement rushing up. He thinks he cried out, because he knew he was going to hit hard, face first, because he couldn't make his arms work. Then everything went black, and he never felt the ground at all…
Billy was upside down.
Mumia was looking up at him. "Are you okay?"
Billy was shaking his head, not okay.
People were running.
Not okay. Blood everywhere.
Then sirens, far away, then closer.
Mumia tried to sit up. Then there they were, the police, and it was just like before, just like '68, just like the [Gov. George] Wallace rally. Cops bending over him, cops snarling, kicking, careful of their shoes because of blood everywhere…
If Abu-Jamal did not shoot Faulkner, then who did? Abu-Jamal's defense at trial was that one or more of the people who various eyewitnesses reported seeing run from the scene immediately after Faulkner was shot killed him. This hypothesis got scant weight at trial when one of the two witnesses the defense produced to assert it – a prostitute under intense pressure from the D.A.’s office – recanted her written statement to the police about seeing two black men flee the murder scene.
As early as mid-1989 the possibility of a shooter other than Abu-Jamal began to re-emerge when New York attorney Rachel Wolkenstein of the radical Partisan Defense Committee, who was working pro bono for Abu-Jamal on matters relating to his prison conditions, heard that a prisoner at Pennsylvania State Correctional Institute in Hunlock Creek, Pa. had information about Faulkner's murder. According to a declaration Wolkenstein filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in 2001, she first interviewed Arnold R. Beverly at Hunlock Creek in 1989. She stated that Beverly told her he was present when Faulkner was shot and that Abu-Jamal had not shot Faulkner. Beverly told her that Faulkner was killed at the behest of Philadelphia police officers because he was interfering with police payoffs for prostitution and drugs in the Center City precinct where Faulkner was assigned. Beverly denied that he had shot Faulkner and refused to identify who did. He told her he would not testify about Faulkner's shooting, even if under subpoena.
Wolkenstein stated that Beverly named a black police officer by the name of Boston (whom she later confirmed to be Philadelphia Police Officer Lawrence Boston) as being involved in the arrangements to kill Faulkner and "that some police officers were on the scene to ensure the 'hit' went off as planned." She stated that Beverly further informed her that the prosecution's main eyewitness against Abu-Jamal, prostitute Cynthia White, "turned tricks" for the police. As time went by, Beverly would not be alone in this claim.
In 1990, Wolkenstein learned of William Singletary, a tow-truck operator who claimed to have been an eyewitness to Faulkner's murder. In a sworn deposition, Singletary testified that he witnessed Faulkner's shooting and that Abu-Jamal did not shoot him. Singletary, a cousin of former Chicago Bear linebacker Mike Singletary, said the shooter was a black male wearing a green Army coat who fled the scene immediately after the shooting. Singletary said he gave this account to the police hours after the shooting, but that the police officer taking his statement tore it up and forced him to sign a fabricated statement under threat of harm. Singletary would reiterate this claim at Abu-Jamal’s post-conviction relief hearing in 1995.
In March of 1999, Wolkenstein stated in her affidavit that she met with Beverly two additional times at an undisclosed address to interview him. At the first meeting, she stated that Beverly reconfirmed his prior account that Abu-Jamal had not shot Faulkner, telling her that he was also shot and wounded, and that he had bled at the scene. "He also told me that he wore a green Army jacket that night." In the second interview, "…Beverly confessed that he himself shot P. O. Faulkner. He told me that someone else fired the first shot that hit P. O. Faulkner [in the back], and then Beverly ran across the street and shot the officer in the face. He stated that Abu-Jamal arrived later and did not shoot anyone. According to Beverly, Mr. Abu-Jamal was shot by a police officer other than Faulkner."
On June 8, 1999, Beverly signed a sworn confession that he and another man, whom he refused to identify, had murdered Faulkner and that "Abu-Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting." In his sworn confession, Beverly reiterated that organized crime figures and police officers were involved in the plan to shoot Faulkner, and that police officers were present at the shooting.
Instead of being the major breakthrough revelation for Abu-Jamal's defense team, the Beverly confession would end up rupturing it. Lead counsel Leonard Weinglass, according to Wolkenstein's declaration, dismissed the confession "out of hand and offered the excuse that presenting this confession would risk 'losing credibility' with a federal court judge." (At the time, Abu-Jamal's federal habeas petition was before Judge Yohn.) Beverly’s extensive criminal record would provide any defense attorney with misgivings regarding his credibility. For a wide assortment of felonies, including burglary, theft, receiving stolen property, criminal conspiracy, and weapons possession, Beverly had been sent to prison six times, twice for up to 10 years.
Weinglass did not want anything to do with Beverly. In an attempt to get Wolkenstein to back off, Weinglass had Beverly take a polygraph exam administered by Earl Rawlings. Wolkenstein stated in her affidavit that the exam was inconclusive on some questions covered, but that Rawlings was not qualified to conduct a polygraph test and "performed an incompetent examination." She stated that Rawlings did conclude that "Beverly was being truthful when he said that he was present at the scene of the shooting and that Mr. Abu-Jamal was not the shooter."
Wolkenstein subsequently had Beverly re-tested by polygrapher Dr. Charles Honts, a nationally recognized expert in administering polygraphs. Honts reported in a sworn statement that "Beverly confessed to him during the polygraph examination and that the polygraph test results supported the truthfulness of Arnold Beverly's confession that he – and not Mumia Abu-Jamal – shot police officer Faulkner."
Despite the bombshell exculpatory evidence that Beverly's confession presented Abu-Jamal's defense team – now supported by Honts's polygraph of Beverly – Weinglass refused to use the confession as evidence of Abu-Jamal's innocence by either presenting it in a supplemental post-conviction petition in state court or using it in state court filings to renew motions for discovery, ballistic testing, and DNA testing of the physical evidence.
According to the controversial book Executing Justice: An Inside Account of the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, written by Daniel R. Williams and published in May of 2001 by St. Martin's Press, Weinglass refused to advance the Beverly confession because he agreed with Williams that Beverly's "story was insane." Weinglass brought Williams to Abu-Jamal's defense team in 1992, shortly after Abu-Jamal had named Weinglass to be his chief legal counsel. Abu-Jamal, claiming that the publication of the book was a breach of his attorney/client relationship, filed an unsuccessful suit to stop the book’s release. The prosecution, as predicted by Wolkenstein, would use passages from Williams's book in court filings to oppose the admission of the Beverly confession as well as to discredit preemptively other defense initiatives such as Singletary's new testimony.
In response to Weinglass's refusal to use the Beverly confession, Wolkenstein resigned from the defense team in July of 1999, as did attorney Jonathan Piper, a litigator at the Chicago office of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. Piper had worked pro bono for Abu-Jamal throughout the 1990s, drafting legal papers and providing legal and factual research assistance, including interviews with FBI sources active in investigating rampant police corruption in Philadelphia at the time of Faulkner's death.
Subsequent to the publication of Williams’s book in May of 2001, Abu-Jamal discharged Weinglass and Williams from his defense team.
Within days, Abu-Jamal's new defense team, consisting of Marlene Kamish of Chicago, Eliot Lee Grossman of Los Angeles, Michael Farrell of Philadelphia, and Nick Brown of the United Kingdom, issued three sworn affidavits: one from Abu-Jamal, one from his brother Billy Cook, and the June 8, 1999 affidavit from erstwhile hit man Beverly that Weinglass had refused to release. Abu-Jamal's affidavit, which was dated May 4, 2001, contained 34 assertions detailing his version of the events surrounding Faulkner's killing in sequential detail. He stated that he did not kill Faulkner and was himself shot in the chest by a police officer as he approached the scene. The shot caused him to collapse and to black out until other police arrived and began beating him. The full text of Abu-Jamal's affidavit:
[begin block quote]
I, MUMIA ABU-JAMAL, declare:
1. I am the Petitioner in this action. If called as a witness I could and would testify to the following from my own personal knowledge:
2. I did not shoot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. I had nothing to do with the killing of Officer Faulkner. I am innocent.
3. At my trial I was denied the right to defend myself. I had no confidence in my court-appointed attorney, who never even asked me what happened the night I was shot and the police officer was killed; and I was excluded from at least half the trial.
4. Since I was denied all my rights at my trial I did not testify. I would not be used to make it look like I had a fair trial.
5. I did not testify in the post-conviction proceedings in 1995 on the advice of my attorney, Leonard Weinglass, who specifically told me not to testify.
6. Now for the first time I have been given an opportunity to tell what happened to me in the early morning hours of December 9, 1981. This is what happened:
7. As a cabbie I often chose 13th and Locust Street because it was a popular club area with a lot of foot traffic.
8. I worked out of United Cab on the night of 12/9/81.
9. I believe I had recently returned from dropping off a fare in West Philly.
10. I was filling out my log when I heard some shouting.
11. I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw a flashing dome light of a police cruiser. This wasn't unusual.
12. I continued to fill out my log/trip sheet when I heard what sounded like gunshots.
13. I looked again into my rear view mirror and saw people running up and down Locust.
14. As I scanned I recognized my brother standing in the street staggering and dizzy.
15. I immediately exited the cab and ran to his scream.
16. As I came across the street I saw a uniformed cop turn toward me gun in hand, saw a flash and went down to my knees.
17. I closed my eyes and sat still trying to breathe.
18. The next thing that I remember I felt myself being kicked, hit and being brought out of a stupor.
19. When I opened my eyes, I saw cops all around me.
20. They were hollering and cursing, grabbing and pulling on me. I felt faint finding it hard to talk.
21. As I looked through this cop crowd all around me, I saw my brother, blood running down his neck and a cop lying on his back on the pavement.
22. I was pulled to my feet and then rammed into a telephone pole, beaten where I fell, and thrown into a paddy wagon.
23. I think I slept until I heard the door open and a white cop in a white shirt came in cursing and hit me in the forehead.
24. I don't remember what he said much except a lot of "niggers," "black mother- fuckers" and what not.
25. I believe he left and I slept. I don't remember the wagon moving for a while and then it did [move] for sometime.
26. I awoke to hear the driver speaking over the radio about his prisoner.
27. I was informed by the anonymous crackle on the radio that I was en route to the police administration building a few blocks away.
28. Then, it sounded like [someone] I.D.'d [identified] as “M-l” came on the radio band telling the driver to go to Jefferson Hospital.
29. Upon arrival I was thrown from the wagon to the ground and beaten.
30. I was beaten again at the doors of Jefferson [Hospital].
31. Because of the blood in my lungs it was difficult to speak, and impossible to holler.
32. I never confessed to anything because I had nothing to confess to.
33. I never said I shot the policeman. I did not shoot the policeman.
34. 1 never said I hoped he died. I would never say something like that.
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States that the above is true and correct and was executed by me on 3 May, 2001, at Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.
[end block quote]
Like Abu-Jamal, Cook had never previously stated what he witnessed at the scene. Cook, whom Faulkner was in the process of arresting when the officer was shot to death, exonerated his brother, but he also asserted that a passenger in his car – his long-time street-vendor partner Kenneth “Poppi” Freeman – had admitted to him that he shot Faulkner as part of a conspiracy to kill the officer. Cook's affidavit was dated April 29, 2001. (Freeman died in 1985 under suspicious circumstances hours after Philadelphia police firebombed the MOVE house and destroyed 61 row houses in the process. His body was found bound, gagged, and naked in a vacant lot. The coroner listed his cause of death as a heart attack. He was 31. When asked at Abu-Jamal’s post conviction relief hearing if he knew the circumstances of Freeman’s death, his friend Arnold Howard answered, “My understanding is he was handcuffed and shot up (with drugs) and dumped on Grink’s lot on Roosevelt Boulevard, buck naked.”) The full text of Cook's affidavit:
[begin block quote]
I, BILLY COOK, declare:
1. If called to testify as a witness in this matter I would competently testify to the following from my own personal knowledge:
2. On the night of December 9, 1981 I was with my partner Kenneth Freeman, my friend from childhood.
3. Mumia had stopped by at my stand [a vending stand in Center City] that night. He would do that periodically. Mumia had been robbed about a week before.
4. I left my gun locked up at my stand that night, but Poppi [Kenneth Freeman’s nickname] always carried his gun. It was a .38.
5. I probably was wearing a black knit cap, I had dreds and always tucked them in.
6. We had closed up late at night.
7. Kenny (Poppi) and I had hit a few bars. We were just unwinding. We used to do that all the time after we closed up the vending stand for the night.
8. We were headed along Locust.
9. Poppi had got some beer and gotten back in the car.
10. At Locust at about Juniper I saw flashing lights of a police car. He followed me for about a half a block and I pulled over behind another car in the first empty spot on the south side of Locust.
11. I had wooden bumpers on my car and they were supposed to be metal. I had been stopped for that but he never said anything about that or gave any reason to have stopped me. I never hit him.
12. I had never seen him before. I knew the cops that worked in the district where my stand was. Locust and 13th is an adjacent district but I didn't ever see him before.
13. I got out my car. Poppi stayed in the car in the passenger seat. I let him (the cop) know I was not happy.
14. After that we went back and forth verbal confrontation. He pulls out a stick or some kind of object and slaps me in the head three times. By that time he had me on the side of the car, I started bleeding profusely. So I go back to my car to get my paperwork.
15. I never raised my hand to the policeman. I may have gone to block him when he was hitting me. That's all. I am not that stupid. I never hit a cop. He hit me with a flashlight and I was bleeding but then he let me go back in my car.
16. After that I got in the car. I was in the front seat looking in the back seat.
17. There were people on the street. There always were in that area. The bars were supposed to close by two o'clock but the clubs stayed open later. Some until 5 o'clock. They served drinks anyway.
18. I can't say I recall where other people were and I can't describe where anyone was, but there were people milling about. I never saw a taxi that they later claimed was there. I don't really know how many people were on the street. But there were always people out there it didn't matter what time. It could be five in the morning and there would be people.
19. When I heard the first shot I was in the driver’s seat facing toward the back of the car looking for something in the back seat to give to the cop like an owner's card. I am not the organized type and I didn't keep papers in the glove compartment. The back seat had a lot of papers and things from the stand, teddy bears, stuffed animals. We sold all that kind of stuff. Like special stuff for the holidays like on Valentine's Day we'd have Valentines and we sold novelty items and artificial flowers.
20. When I had gotten in my car Faulkner was in front of the car by the hood where he had stopped me and frisked me. When I was in the car looking in the back, I heard gun shots and saw sparks but I didn't see him shot. I saw flashes of a gun out of the side of my eye. He was standing in front of the car but I didn't see him shot. I was facing the back of the car.
21. Out of my peripheral vision I knew, I could feel other people around but I can't say where they were. His car was behind mine and the policeman was standing on the street between my car and whatever car was parked in front of me.
22. When I first saw my brother, he was running. He was feet away from me. We hadn't made any plans to meet that night or anything like that and I didn't even realize that he came around that area there to pick up fares. He had nothing in his hands. I heard a shot and I saw him stumble. I didn't see who shot him. He was stumbling forward.
23. It is strange people told me later everything happened in a few seconds but I could never see it that way. It seemed like everything was happening at once, but it took a long time. I have tried over the years but I can't see it as a few seconds. It seems to me as if it was 45 seconds not three.
24. When I was looking in the back seat Poppi was still there and then I looked and Poppi's door was open. He had been in the passenger seat and I don't know which way he had gone. He left the area right after this happened.
25. Later Poppi talked about a plan to kill Faulkner. He told me that he was armed on that night and participated in the shooting. He was connected and knew all kinds of people. I used to ask him about it but he talked but never said much. He wasn't a talker. I didn't see Poppi for a while after that.
26. Poppi had been in Germany in the army. That night he was wearing his green army jacket. You know just a regulation army jacket. The jacket he always wore. He had been discharged. I don't know for what.
27. I got out. I wanted to run; maybe I could have gotten away. I even started to run. I did. But I couldn't run because of my brother. Not after I saw my brother down on the ground.
28. I spoke to him. I told him, "I'm here for you." I don't remember his answering, but I remember his groan.
29. I saw a gun on the street. It was in the gutter. I kicked it under my car. Before the cops came.
30. If they asked me something, I don't remember. I didn't answer them anything. I sure don't remember them reading me my rights. I knew [Police Officer] Shoemaker. He used to stop by my stand and sit there and smoke weed. His wife used come to my stand with him.
31. I think they took me away before they took Mumia or the cop. I remember them pushing me. But I can't remember whether I was in a paddy wagon or a squad car or whether I was sitting up or not. My mind was just not to talk.
32. When they had me in the police station they threatened to kill me and throw me in the river.
33. I have been afraid for my life since that night. I have been afraid to tell anything about what happened. Wouldn't you be?
34. They took me in a room. There were two officers black and white. I was saying things to give them something to chew on.
35. I finally came to my senses. I didn't like the whole idea of making a statement. They wanted me to sign a statement but I just wouldn't do it. I told them I wanted to see my lawyer. I didn't like it. So I just wouldn't sign.
36. I think I was in jail a day or two then they let me out on bail.
37. I had been living in Center City, but I couldn't stay there after it happened. I got help and moved out of my apartment in the middle of the night. And moved back in with my mother.
38. I remember [Attorney Anthony] Jackson coming to my house several times. My mother and sister were there. I don't remember him ever interviewing me. I just remember him trying to calm us.
39. I don't remember meeting with him anywhere else except at my mother's house. He never asked me to testify. [Billy Cook’s attorney] Alva advised me not to testify. My lawyer implied to me that if I came to court I would also be charged with murder. I had to pay him $1,000.
40. Alva was Freeman's lawyer too.
41. If they (Jackson) had said they wanted me to testify I would have done it but they never did.
42. At PCRA, I was expecting to testify. Leonard [Weinglass] and Rachel [Wolkenstein] were giving me cross signals. Rachel wanted me to testify but Leonard didn't. So I didn't testify. In 1999, I was asked to testify again and I said I would.
43. I will testify now.
44. Mumia was not holding a gun. Mumia never intervened in anything between me and the cop.
45. I had nothing to do with the shooting or killing of the police officer. My brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal, had nothing do with shooting or killing the policeman.
I declare under penalty of perjury, under the laws of the State of Pennsylvania and the laws of the United States of America, that the above is true and correct and was executed by me on 4-29-01 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
[end block quote]
Beverly's affidavit was even more astounding – and in various ways. It stated that he and another man whom he refused to ever identify – presumably Kenneth Freeman – were hired by the mob to murder Faulkner because Faulkner had been cracking down on prostitution, gambling, and drug activities in the area. Beverly stated that his unnamed accomplice was the first to shoot Faulkner – shooting him in the back – but that he was the one who stood over Faulkner and shot him in the face at point-blank range. He said Abu-Jamal “was shot shortly after that by a uniformed police officer who arrived on the scene.”
The problem with Beverly’s account, just as Weinglass viewed it, was that it was filled with improbabilities. Although it contained some nuggets of telling detail about Faulkner’s shooting – much in the same way that Singletary’s did – credible eyewitnesses Michael Scanlan and Robert Harkins saw no such unfolding of events. They each saw Abu-Jamal running toward Faulkner while the officer was still standing.
Was Faulkner the FBI informant that Beverly, in his affidavit, said he was, and that Cook, in his affidavit, referenced Freeman as saying he was? It seems probable that he was. A sophisticated “Topcon”camera, the type used then by the FBI in surveillance, was retrieved by police from Faulkner's patrol car after his shooting and turned over to the lead detective on the case. In Rachel Wolkenstein’s 2001 affidavit, she stated that in 1998 she interviewed Donald Hersing, whom she identified as the FBI’s confidential source during its 1981-1982 investigation of Center City police corruption, and he “confirmed that corrupt police were very concerned about possible police informants in the winter of 1981-82.” Hersing operated two Center City nightclubs that were being extorted by high-ranking Philadelphia police officials.
Another strong indication that Faulkner was an FBI informant was, according to Wolkenstein in her affidavit, was information uncovered by her colleague Jonathan Piper when he spoke with the lead federal prosecutor in the corruption case against John DeBenedetto, the head of the Central Division (Sixth Precinct) where Faulkner worked. Wolkenstein stated that the federal prosecutor told Piper “that Philadelphia police officers were sources in the investigation, including one source who had a brother who was also a police officer.” When Maureen Faulkner testified at the beginning of the trial, McGill referenced her husband having a brother who had “worked for the police.”
Wolkenstein also stated in her affidavit that George Sherwood, the FBI agent who oversaw the bureau’s crime squad in Philadelphia and was involved in the investigation of Sixth Precinct corruption, had subpoenaed Faulkner’s Army records earlier in 1982. She said former FBI agents advised her that “the most plausible explanation for this was that Faulkner was an informant, confidential source or an investigation target.”
Wolkenstein stated that Sherwood “advised our investigator that unless the FBI had an investigative interest in a matter the FBI would not have assisted another agency (including the district attorney or the U.S. attorney) with the retrieval of Officer Faulkner’s military records.”
She further averred, “FBI records on Daniel Faulkner disclosed an FBI-PH airtel [telex] to the director [William H. Webster] dated 12-30-81 that no written summary of the case was being prepared because of the ongoing criminal investigation [into Center City police corruption] and pending legal litigation.” Wolkenstein stated that former FBI agents she interviewed about the order for no written summary of Faulkner’s death found it “highly unusual.” Another curious item that appears in Faulkner’s FBI file after his death is the sentence, “Philadelphia [FBI office] strongly recommends letter to wife [Maureen Faulkner] from director.”
If Faulkner were killed because he was a police informant, he would not have been the first or the last Philadelphia police officer during the early 1980s to die under circumstances suggesting a directed “hit.” Officer James Mason was shot to death by a sniper in May of 1981. Four years later, Officer Thomas Trench was executed in his police car when a gunman shot him in the face at point-blank range through the open driver’s window, indicating that Trench knew his assailant.
To step back and attempt to understand the Mumia Abu-Jamal case it is necessary to consider Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia as well as the small, rag-tag, back-to-nature group called MOVE that Rizzo detested and wanted to destroy. Over time, Abu-Jamal's fate became inextricably tied to MOVE’s.
Rizzo was not just a lightning rod for racial strife. He built his career on it, ascending from beat cop, to precinct captain, to commander, to police chief (1967-1971) to mayor (1972-1979), promising along the way to make "Attila the Hun look like a faggot." Despite his bravado, Rizzo was less than willing to enforce the law when it came to corralling the high-profile mobsters who acted with virtual impunity during his long career. “…on Frank Rizzo’s watch, the South Philadelphia mob grew unabated,” wrote Sal Paolantonio in his mostly fawning biography of Rizzo entitled Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America, published in 1993.
For his willingness to wield a nightstick early in his career, his fellow officers nicknamed him “The Cisco Kid.”
Blacks called him Rizzio. To many of his fellow Italian-Americans in South Philly he was "The Bambino." To Paolantonio and other admirers he was simply “The Big Man.”
In On a Move, Bisson recounted a classic Rizzo display that occurred in 1967, during Rizzo's first year as police chief, when 3,000 black high school students marched on the Board of Education Building to demand black studies be included in the curriculum. Rizzo, like George Wallace at the University of Alabama, stood in the doorway as the students approached. Then he shouted his order to the police: "Get their black asses!" Police waded in among the young demonstrators with nightsticks, injuring dozens of students and beating 15 students so severely that they had to be hospitalized. While no police officer would be charged or disciplined for the assault, citations for resisting arrest and disorderly conduct were handed out to many students. Rizzo denied he had given the order to assault the students until he listened the next day to himself say it on videotape at television station WFIL played for him by reporter Larry Kane. “When he saw that he had said it, he just turned his head and left,” Kane said in an Inquirer interview.
Under Rizzo, police lawlessness was so commonplace and pervasive that the U.S. Justice Department sued the city's entire police force for civil-rights violations in 1979. A federal court dismissed the suit on jurisdictional grounds. Later, President Carter and the majority of Philadelphians would come to view Rizzo as a national embarrassment. By the late 1970s police graft was so intertwined with underworld activities that the Philly Police Department, particularly the Center City precinct to which Faulkner was assigned, was the target of at least three ongoing FBI probes that would result in the indictments and convictions of more than 30 Central Division Philadelphia police officers, including Police Inspector Alfonso Giordano, the ranking officer at the scene when Abu-Jamal was arrested for Faulkner's murder.
There have always been a lot of skeletons in the City of Brotherly Love’s closet. As Frederick Douglas wrote in 1862, “There is not perhaps anywhere to be found a city in which prejudice against color is more rampant than in Philadelphia…It has its white schools and its colored schools, its white churches and its colored churches, its white Christianity and its colored Christianity…and the line is everywhere tightly drawn between them.”
Philadelphia remains, essentially, a city of ghettos. Its enormous inner-city black slums are hemmed in by a series of ethnic neighborhoods that stretch out to the south and east in miles and miles of nearly identical row houses. Further removed are the neighborhoods to the west, and beyond them, just outside the city's limits, the pristine suburbs roll, one after the other, along the storied Main Line.
In Rizzo, the Italians and the various Slavs, the Irish, and the Germans had their man who was more than willing to stand up to the expanding black population as it encroached on the boundaries of the city's ethnic neighborhoods. MOVE's ramshackle house in previously all-white West Philly would be the spot where Rizzo would draw a line in the sand.
In a certain universal sense, the group calling itself MOVE, from the early 1970s up to the current day, has acted like a vortex into which have flowed all of modern civilization’s troubles. – Robin Wagner-Pacifici, Discourse & Destruction: The City of Philadelphia versus MOVE
Rizzo didn't create MOVE, but he might as well have in the sense that every despot needs, in fact demands, a foil. In MOVE, Rizzo had the perfect one. The more he oppressed the group, the stronger, more determined and politically savvy it became; the more he tried to destroy MOVE, the more he exposed his own lawlessness, causing his own career to fall into sunset. When term limits barred him from seeking the mayoralty a third consecutive time, he put his political career to a vote by spearheading a special referendum in 1978 – in the wake of the Powelton MOVE debacle – to alter the city charter. In a massive denunciation, Philadelphia voters told Rizzo eight years was enough, rejecting the referendum 66 percent to 34 percent. “Sixty-six percent of the city’s voters said no to charter change, no to Frank Rizzo, mayor for life,” wrote Paolantonio. “The winners rejoiced as if the walls of totalitarianism had been pulled down.”
Vincent Lopez Leaphart founded MOVE in the early 1970s in Philadelphia and subsequently changed his name to John Africa. Leaphart, in his early 40s at the time, was, like Rizzo, a high school dropout. I.Q. tests at age 7 and 15 revealed scores of 84 and 79 respectively. At age 15 he transferred to a school for students with learning disabilities, only to drop out the following year. At age 17 he was arrested for armed robbery and auto theft. Drafted in 1952, he served two years in the Army, one of them in Korea. Like his father, Leaphart made what living he did as a handyman. In 1966 his wife of five years, Dorothy, brought charges against him for striking her, but the case was dismissed. They divorced the next year.
How Leaphart, who could barely read and write, was able to take on the messiah role he would carve out for himself is a matter of great mystery. His hold over his followers was similar in many respects to the incredibly magnetic pull other cult leaders such as Jim Jones and David Koresh had on their disciples. To this day – more than two decades after his gruesome death at the bombed-out MOVE row house where his beheaded corpse was found with buckshot in both its chest and buttocks – past and present MOVE members venerate him. “Long Live John Africa!” is their mantra.
In 1971 Leaphart moved into the Powelton Community Housing Project – known simply as “The Co-Op” – in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia, adjacent to Drexel University. This integrated neighborhood was a haven for free thinkers and ‘60s-style radicals, home to students and faculty from both Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania. Here Leaphart befriended Donald Glassey, a recent master’s graduate in his early 20s from the School of Social Work at Penn. Together, with Leaphart dictating and Glassey taking notes, the two authored in a year’s time what would turn out to be Leaphart’s “naturalistic” philosophy, The Book of Guidelines. Later, this 300-typewritten page manifesto would be known as The Teachings of John Africa and become the framework of the MOVE movement.
Less than two years after Leaphart moved into The Co-Op, its board began eviction proceedings against him for his failure to fumigate his apartment, the source of a major roach infestation now plaguing many of his neighbors. To Leaphart’s naturalist view, roaches and all living things were God’s children, no different than humans.
When Glassey purchased half of a cavernous three-story Victorian house in Powelton in the spring of 1973, he allowed Leaphart – who now referred to himself as John Africa – to move in, bringing with him his sisters Louise James and LaVerne Sims, and their children, as well as a pack of dogs who followed him around and earned him the nickname “Dog Man” in the neighborhood. At first the Leapharts referred to themselves as the American Christian Movement for Life, but soon dropped the references to American and Christian, settling on MOVE. By the mid 1970s there were as many as 30 or 40 MOVE members. They made money by washing cars in the street in front of the house, doing home repairs in the neighborhood, cutting wood, and, in season, selling watermelons and fruits from the front yard.
Most MOVE members were in their 20s and black, but a few were young white women looking for a family to belong to, for something to believe in. In Burning Down the House: MOVE and the Tragedy of Philadelphia, a white teenaged member, Jeanne Africa, is quoted as saying she joined MOVE to acquire “a solid, secure family.” She said John Africa “gave us a lot of solutions to problems we had in The Lifestyle. We had people who were on drugs, he got them off drugs. He was like a messiah.” The teachings of John Africa forbid the use of drugs.
At any one time there could be up to 30 or more MOVE members living in the Powelton house, including small children and infants. MOVE members didn't marry, but monogamous relationships were the rule. Pregnancies were common. In Burning Down the House, the authors John Anderson and Hilary Hevenor describe MOVE’s approach to childbearing: “Progeniture was the order of the day at Headquarters. Sexual potency on the part of MOVE’s men and childbearing on the part of its women were encouraged as part of ‘the natural order of life’…MOVE women were expected not only to bear many children, but to give birth naturally, licking their babies clean, biting off the umbilical cord with their teeth, then eating it.”
John Africa’s grand experiment was to have MOVE children grow up free of the addictions of the “System lifestyle.” No school, no TV, no clothes in summer, and a diet solely of raw fruits and vegetables. There would be no “Distortion Days” for the children like there were occasionally for MOVE adults, days when the adults could gorge themselves on all the junk food and meat they wanted. “Children were considered central figures in the MOVE organization. Babies did not diaper, but defecated in the yard along with the animals MOVE kept,” wrote Robin Wagner-Pacifici.
In a pamphlet MOVE published in 1996 to mark its 25th anniversary, MOVE stated its mission:
[begin block quote]
MOVE's work is to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life – people, animals, any form of life. The purpose of John Africa's revolution is to show people how corrupt, rotten, criminally enslaving this system is, show people through John Africa's teaching, the truth, that this system is the cause of all their problems (alcoholism, drug addiction, unemployment, wife abuse, child pornography, every problem in the world) and to set the example of revolution for people to follow when they realize how they've been oppressed, repressed, duped, tricked by the system, this government and see the need to rid themselves of this cancerous system as MOVE does.
[end block quote]
It is beyond ironic that the rebellious MOVE cult took hold in the city William Penn founded as a Quaker colony in 1681. Penn’s bronze statute – a beacon to liberty and tolerance – sits atop Philadelphia’s ornate City Hall. Penn, just as MOVE would do three centuries later, issued tracts, lectured in public, got arrested for unlawful assembly, and scorned courtroom decorum. In 1670, Penn was imprisoned for “declining to doff his hat in court, for further unauthorized preaching, for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the Crown,” according to The First American – The Life & Times of Benjamin Franklin written by H. W. Brands in 2000. To rid England of the young, highborn firebrand, King Charles II granted Penn a large tract of land west of New Jersey to settle a debt he owed Penn’s recently deceased father.
A passage that could have been included in The Teachings of John Africa was written in a letter to a friend by Ben Franklin in 1764: “As long as I have known the world, I have observed that wrong is always growing more wrong, till there is no bearing it, and that right, however opposed, comes right at last.”
Characterized by dreadlock hair and the adopted surname Africa (“Africa” for the original homeland of all humankind), MOVE’s members were controversial, confrontational, belligerent, and profane, calling their detractors "motherfuckers." The term “motherfucker” – particularly when MOVE members ranted over loudspeakers or bullhorns – would often be used three or four times in one sentence, in sentence after numbing sentence. MOVE members justified this obscenity by arguing that the real obscenity is the system that allows racism, exploitation, and injustice to flourish. "If our profanity offends you, look around you and see how destructively society is profaning itself. It is the rape of the land, the pollution of the environment, the betrayal and suffering of the masses by corrupt government that is the real obscenity."
According to the MOVE pamphlet, MOVE members saw themselves as "pilgrims with bullhorns" and their Powelton Village house as their Mayflower. MOVE picketed pet stores, circuses, veterinary offices and the zoo ("Let the animals go free!"), challenged visiting celebrities to noisy debates, called Jane Fonda a racist and Jesse Jackson a liar. They took in the stray cats and dogs in the neighborhood, accumulating a pack of more than 30 unvaccinated dogs that roamed the premises. Although MOVE members were vegetarians, they fed their dogs with chunks of raw meat thrown into the yard. They also let their garbage pile up, "composting" in the front yard, a magnet for rats, termites, cockroaches and swarms of insects. All life forms were welcome at the MOVE house. They were the neighbors from hell.
The Teachings of John Africa prohibited bathing with soap and proscribed that men and women alike grow their hair to the fullest in “natural” length dreadlocks. The uniform was unisex as well: blue jeans, blue denim jackets, and heavy-soled men’s boots. Members were encouraged to chew garlic for its natural medicinal value.
Anderson and Hevenor described MOVE’s Powelton house this way: “The ramshackle headquarters at 309 N. 33rd in Powelton was turned into a compound. The whole of the front lawn was made into a stage for MOVE’s drama. A wooden platform extended from the front porch all the way to an eight-foot high outer fence. Electric bullhorns were mounted in treetops, and the neighborhood was treated to frequent lectures via the powerful sound system. Extemporaneous reading from The Teachings of John Africa blared through the night and into the early morning hours. Neighbors who dared complain soon found themselves denounced openly, loudly, and obscenely. Under such circumstances, powerful drama unfolded almost daily on North 33rd Street.”
MOVE became the butt of many cocktail-party and local news broadcast jokes. Most Philadelphians readily bought the news media's version of MOVE as urban savages. By 1975, enough neighbors had complained to the city government about the stench emanating from MOVE's property that the Department of Licenses and Inspections had to respond. Later that year, the city filed a civil suit against MOVE to evict the group from its property. MOVE appealed to the State Supreme Court. The case would drag on for three years until Rizzo came up with his ultimate solution.
By the mid-1970s, MOVE was appearing in public with increasing frequency, demonstrating with bullhorns at political rallies, public forums, and media offices. MOVE, inevitably, made police abuse a focal point. Rizzo, now mayor, responded predictably: The police began to break up MOVE demonstrations and arrest MOVE members on disorderly conduct charges or other misdemeanor violations such as obscenity and failure to disperse. MOVE cases jammed the Philadelphia courts. During a seven-month period in late 1973 and early 1974, the Inquirer reported, 40 different MOVE members were arrested 150 times. Some were sentenced to several years in jail.
The boiling point in the MOVE/police relationship was reached on Sunday, March 28, 1976, when seven jailed MOVE members were released in the afternoon and arrived at the Powelton house around 4 p.m. A noisy celebration carried on into the late evening until neighbors called the police to complain. Upon their arrival, Chuck Africa cursed the police. “Officer Daniel Palermo told reporters that as he was walking back to his car, a brick sailed through the air and caught him in the back of his head. More bricks flew…Bedlam followed,” Anderson and Hevenor reported in their book. Janine Africa told the authors “how the police had drawn their guns and billyclubs and begun to beat everyone present. The police, she said, ‘were going crazy,’ swinging their nightsticks, pushing and shoving the MOVE women away in order to get at their men. When Janine, the baby Life in her arms, tried to shield Phil (Africa), she too was pushed, then fell heavily to the ground. After that, the ‘cops stepped all over me an on me.’ Life Africa lay crushed to the earth.”
Six MOVE men – including three who had been freed from jail that day – were arrested and charged with aggravated assault, riot, resisting arrest, and reckless endangerment. Six wounded Philadelphia police officers were taken to the hospital.
The next morning, MOVE held a news conference at its compound. One MOVE member displayed a broken, blood-stained police nightstick and a police officer’s blue hat. Janine Africa told reporters that her three-week-old son, Life Africa, had been stomped to death on the floor after police knocked her down while holding the baby. “Police Department officials denied the story and hinted strongly that no such child as Life Africa had ever existed,” reported Anderson and Hevenor. “There were, after all, no hospital records of the child’s having been born.” [All MOVE children were home birthed.].
To prove the three-week-old baby boy’s death to the media, MOVE invited a Philadelphia Inquirer photographer and reporter and several local politicians to dinner at their headquarters several days later. After the meal, the guests were shown the baby’s corpse in a shoebox. The guests reported that the stench from the box was overwhelming.
A few weeks later, according to Bisson’s biography, Abu-Jamal interviewed an eyewitness, an old man who had watched it all from a window across the street. "I saw that baby fall," he said. "They were clubbing the mother; I knew the baby was going to get hurt. I even reached for the phone to call the police, before I realized that it was the police. You know what I mean?"
No chargers were filed against the police officers involved in the baby's death. Instead the D.A.'s office pursued prosecution of the six MOVE members arrested that night. Federal authorities informed MOVE that they would investigate the baby’s death, but would require an autopsy to do so. “The MOVE people demurred,” Anderson and Hevenor reported. “Their organization was opposed to the perverted work of scientists and doctors.” Instead, MOVE filed a $26 million civil suit against the city.
By 1976 hundreds of MOVE cases were clogging Philadelphia's justice system, preventing hundreds of non-MOVE related cases from coming to court on time. “Thanks to MOVE, an already overloaded court system had virtually stalled,” the Inquirer reported. To deal with this backlog, court administrators began dismissing numerous MOVE cases.
But three MOVE members were put on trial on charges of assault and resisting arrest in 1976. Robert, Conrad, and Jerry Africa – following the dictates of John Africa – refused to participate in their own defense, ignored courtroom decorum, and were eventually barred from their own trial. Common Pleas Judge Paul Ribner, who would later handle the preliminary hearings in Abu-Jamal's murder trial, tried them in absentia, found them guilty and sentenced them to long prison terms.
By 1977 most MOVE efforts were directed toward getting the three released. On May 20, 1977, after MOVE member Chuck Sims Africa was arrested earlier that day when police stopped his car and found a gun and ammunition in it, MOVE orchestrated its first major confrontation with the police. From a platform recently erected outside its house, various MOVE speakers, wearing khaki, army-style uniforms, demanded over the loudspeaker system the release of their “political prisoners” and an end to the violent harassment by the city. A crowd formed. When the police began arriving, MOVE members brandished firearms – sawed-off shotguns, pistols, rifles, and clubs. This display brought SWAT and Stakeout units. For nine tense hours, some 200 police surrounded the compound and trained an arsenal of weaponry on the front porch. An unidentified MOVE member took the microphone and warned the police, shouting out “the only way they will come in our headquarters is over our dead bodies. If those motherfuckers come in here, they’re going to have to kill everyone in here to do it.”
At 10:30 p.m. MOVE members took their weapons back inside and Police Commissioner Joseph O’Neill ordered the police to disperse.
“The May 20, 1977 confrontation gave MOVE the kind of credence that it had never possessed. News out of Powelton now played on front pages of local newspapers, and Philadelphia television stations often began their broadcasts with MOVE coverage. In a single’s day time, MOVE had become a Story. The possibility of violence commanded attention as no amount of bullhorns and pickets ever could,” Anderson and Hevenor reported.
The confrontation now brought round-the-clock police surveillance to the compound that would continue unabated for the next 10 months.
Four days after the confrontation, Judge Lynne Abraham, now the Philadelphia district attorney, issued 11 warrants for MOVE members on riot charges and "possession of an instrument of crime." Included in the warrants was one for Chuck Sims Africa. The gun taken from his car earlier on May 20 was traced to the gun shop where it was purchased. Records there showed that Leaphart’s old friend, Donald Glassey, had purchased two shotguns and 200 rounds of ammunition eight weeks earlier. Glassey was arrested on June 3 and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office with falsifying information on the firearms forms. Unable to make the $25,000 bail and facing a possible five-year prison sentence, Glassey “turned.” On July 21 – in exchange for a reduced sentence, a recommendation of early parole, and a place in the Federal Witness Protection Program – he led federal agents to two cars he had stocked with most of MOVE’s weapons – guns, bombs and ammunition – that he had collected from various MOVE locations to set up the bust. As a result of the bust, federal arrest warrants were issued against Leaphart and Alphonso (Mo Africa) Robbins. Leaphart and Robbins went underground for the next four years until their arrest in Rochester, N.Y. Delbert Orr Africa became MOVE’s interim leader.
One purpose of the 24-hour watch the police set up around the MOVE house was to arrest members when they came off the property. Sue Africa left the premises and was apprehended a few blocks away and jailed. The other members remained at the house as months passed. (MOVE’s $26 million civil suit against the city in connection with the March 28 death of Life Africa and other alleged police brutalities was dismissed during this period when the standoff prevented MOVE members from attending a hearing.)
Various community mediators tried to broker a deal between the city and MOVE to end the standoff, but MOVE’s demand for the release of Sue Africa and the three MOVE members sentenced to prison by Judge Ribner always brought these discussions to an impasse
The now nearly yearlong standoff was a major PR loser for the macho mayor. In March 1978, Rizzo decided to starve MOVE out by ordering the water and electricity to the MOVE house cut off and the police to set up numerous sandbagged sniper posts. “Police covered a truck with sandbags, armed it with machine guns, and pulled it up before MOVE headquarters. They stationed sharpshooters in the surrounding buildings. This development heightened the crisis and precipitated a new flurry of intermediary efforts,” reported Hizkias Assefa and Paul Wahrhaftig in their book The MOVE Crisis in Philadelphia: Extremist Groups and Conflict Resolution published in 1990. The police established checkpoints, sealing off a four-block area. Rizzo boasted that the perimeter was so tight "a fly couldn't get through."
With bullhorns and loudspeakers at the Poweltown house, MOVE members mocked the city government for spending thousands of dollars a day on police overtime just to stand around and listen to MOVE decry the police and spew revolutionary rant. The media reveled in the street theater, making the Rizzo vs. MOVE confrontation a staple of daily news coverage.
For the next two months, the city’s quarantine of MOVE continued with great inconvenience to the neighbors who were now forced to drive around blockades and show I.D. coming and going to their homes. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that city spending for police overtime had passed the $1 million mark. Area residents held a massive demonstration on Sunday, April 4, 1978, when several thousand ringed City Hall to protest the police blockade at the MOVE house. Rizzo had accomplished the near impossible in making MOVE the object of public sympathy.
With a nudge from the Carter administration to end the stalemate, the city’s managing director, Hillel Levinson, announced a 10-point agreement in early May that had been brokered with MOVE counsel Oscar N. Gaskins. Judge Fred DiBona, City Solicitor Sheldon Albert, and Gaskins signed the 10-point agreement. “MOVE agreed to turn over its remaining weapons and allow police to search the Powelton compound,” Anderson and Hevenor detailed in their book Burning Down the House. “In return, 18 MOVE members, charged with felonies and misdemeanors, would be freed from jail on their own recognizance. The MOVE organization would then have a 90-day grace period – or until midnight, Aug. 1, 1978 – to vacate 307-309 N. 33rd Street entirely. At that point, all outstanding charges would be dropped against the [18-released] MOVE members.” MOVE also agreed to dismantle the platform at the front of the house within two weeks, to remove its animals, and to cease dumping garbage in its backyard. The city agreed to assist MOVE in obtaining replacement housing.
No mention in the agreement was made of MOVE’s three “political prisoners” – Jerry, Conrad, and Robert Africa. Their release “had been accomplished by an oral arrangement and had already been carried out as a precondition to MOVE’s assent to the May 5 agreement,” according to the authors of The MOVE Crisis in Philadelphia.
Implementation of the agreement began that day with the police searching the MOVE compound with metal detectors. When only inoperable weapons were found, the barricades and roadblocks surrounding the area were pulled open. A May 24 news article in the Inquirer reported that health inspectors had found the MOVE house to be clean.
In gaining the release of its political prisoners, MOVE thought it had felled Goliath without hurling a stone. MOVE’s interpretation of the agreement, based on oral understandings shuttled back and forth between the city and MOVE during the negotiations of the settlement agreement, was that all charges against each of the 21 recently released MOVE members would be dropped pending the successful relocation of MOVE members to a different location. In fact, during the 90-day grace period D.A. Rendell’s office began taking actions to bring some of those MOVE members to trial in connection with the May 20, 1977 standoff with police. MOVE saw this as a double cross.
When the city pressed MOVE to tear down its fence, get rid of all of its animals except for a few puppies, and turn over its loudspeakers to the police, MOVE did not comply. "As soon as the city knew MOVE had no guns or explosives, they began modifying and restating the terms of the agreement," the pamphlet states. "It soon became apparent that D.A. Rendell's promise to dispose of all pending MOVE cases within four-to-six weeks was a blatant lie. The 90-day time period, which had been described to MOVE as a working timetable, was misrepresented to the media as an absolute deadline. The promise to assist MOVE in finding a new place to live was never completed, and the city began demanding that the house be razed."
The city did offer MOVE five dilapidated houses in all-black North Philadelphia. “At least one of the five North Philadelphia houses offered to MOVE for taking rental for $1 a year has been declared unfit for human habitation,” the Philadelphia Daily News stated in an editorial dated April 4, 1978, noting that the other four were “run-down properties.” The Daily News found this quite odd. “The ludicrous thing is that the city is trying to drive the MOVE people out of this property [the Powelton compound] on the claim that it is unfit for human habitation.”
At an Aug. 2, 1978 hearing – the day after the 90-day deadline for MOVE to vacate its Powelton compound – that quickly turned intemperate and would lead to MOVE attorney Gaskins being jailed for contempt of court, Judge DiBona ruled that MOVE was in violation of the 90-day deadline to vacate the Powelton house. He proceeded to sign bench warrants for 21 MOVE members, regardless of where they happened to live. This action would set in motion the horrific seize of the Powelton compound within the week.
At dawn on Aug. 8 hundreds of police in flak jackets and riot helmets surrounded the MOVE house. Inside were 12 MOVE adults and 11 children, some of them infants. Over MOVE’s loudspeakers, Chuck Africa stated: “Testing, motherfuckers, testing. You’re trying to kill breastfeeding mothers and breastfeeding children. We’re not backing down. If you want us out, you’ll have to bring us out dead.” Other MOVE speakers asked if the police had their life insurance policies paid up, warning that there would be “lots of widows.”
At 6:04 a.m. George Fencl, head of the Civil Affairs Bureau, announced over a bullhorn, “You have exactly two minutes in which to come out.” A MOVE member responded: “The gate’s open. Stop playin’ games.” Fencl then said, “Come out. No one will hurt you.” He then handed the bullhorn to longtime community activist Monsignor Charles Devlin of the Cardinal’s Commission on Human Relations to make his plea: “Come on out. No one’s going to get hurt. Let me come in, and I’ll walk out with you.”
“Fuck you, priest,” was the reply, according to Anderson and Hevenor.
Police then rolled in specially modified construction vehicles and tore down the fence and smashed out the windows of the house. Just before 7 a.m. MOVE was notified by bullhorn: "Uniformed officers will enter your house for the purpose of taking each of you into custody. Any resistance or use of force will be met with force." In the next hour about 30 flak-jacketed police entered and searched the three-story house, determining that all 23 MOVE members were barricaded in the basement. As firefighters began prying off the boarded up basement windows, they saw a gun sticking out of a basement window. Deputy Police Commissioner Morton Solomon ordered the firefighters to blast water into the basement, flushing the basement with hundreds of gallons of water in minutes.
With the police still in the house and with firefighters just outside it, gunshots suddenly rang out about 8:15 a.m., setting off a torrent of bullets from the police sniper posts into the house. During the 90-second period of sustained gunfire, Officer James Ramp was fatally wounded. Four other police and four firefighters were also shot. For the next half hour, firefighters pumped more water into the basement, raising the standing water level in the basement to several feet. Finally, a MOVE woman and three naked small children climbed out of a front basement window and walked toward the police.
In the next few minutes, all of the remaining MOVE members, except Delbert Orr Africa, climbed out of the front of the house and surrendered. When Delbert, the nominal head of MOVE since John Africa went underground to avoid arrest, crawled out a side window and raised his arms up in a posture of surrender, he was about to become the only MOVE member seriously injured during the ordeal. With one police officer pointing a rifle at his chin, Officer Joseph Zagame smashed him in the face with his police helmet and Officer Lawrence D'Ulisse struck him in the chest with the butt of a rifle, knocking him to the ground. Police then dragged Delbert by his dreadlocks across the street where other officers kicked him in the head, kidneys and groin.
Immediately following the arrests the police version of the events was that MOVE had fired the first shot and that no beatings had accompanied the arrests. The police were forced to abandon the second part of their claims when later that day local TV news broadcasts began airing videotaped footage of Delbert Africa's brutal arrest. Philadelphians were duly shocked. (The resulting public outcry forced the D.A.'s office to impanel a special grand jury, which eventually handed down indictments against three police officers, but no trial would be held for another two-and-a-half years.)
The police claim that MOVE had fired the first shot also came into immediate dispute. Radio reporters Richard Maloney and Larry Rosen both recalled hearing the first shot come from a house diagonally across the street where they said they saw an arm holding a pistol out of a second-story window. Most of the reporters at the scene, though, reported that the first shot came from a basement window of the MOVE compound. The next day, police interviewed three of the 11 MOVE children. An 8-year-old MOVE girl told them all MOVE adults had guns, a 5-year-old boy said he saw Phil, Eddie, Delbert, Janet, and Merle fire their guns – and that MOVE adults were the first to shoot.
Although the death of Officer Ramp had caused the MOVE house to be a murder scene, the compound would be bulldozed that day by noon. Crushed in the debris was a wooden sign that read, “Long Live the House That John Africa Built.”
Later that afternoon, Abu-Jamal attended Mayor Rizzo’s news conference at City Hall. Rizzo blamed the “new breed of journalism” for the death of Officer Ramp and then, in response to a question from Abu-Jamal, said, “They believe what you write, what you say. And it’s got to stop. And one day, and I hope it’s in my career, that you’re going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do.”
All 12 MOVE adults arrested on Aug. 8 were charged with the murder of Officer Ramp, as well as attempted murder, conspiracy, and aggravated and simple assault.
At a preliminary hearing, MOVE’s court-appointed lawyers entered a motion to dismiss the charges based on destruction of evidence, arguing that the destruction of the house prevented MOVE from proving that it was impossible for any MOVE member to have shot Ramp. Judge Merna Marshal denied that petition and held the defendants over for trial. Prior to trial, prosecutors dismissed charges against two of the defendants who agreed to disavow MOVE.
When the remaining nine MOVE defendants all elected self-representation, the court appointed separate backup counsel for each. The hearings for pre-trial motions would last more than a year, and frequently provide raucous and uproarious street theater. The media feasted on every twist and turn, and played up every confrontation between the unruly MOVE defendants and the prosecution.
The non-jury trial – presided over by Common Pleas Judge Edwin Malmed – would not begin until Dec. 10, 1979 and go on for the next five months, becoming the longest trial in Philadelphia history. Nearly 100 witnesses would testify, about 200 exhibits would be introduced, and there would be 300 defense motions for dismissal.
One of the first prosecution witnesses was Chief Inspector George Fencl, head of the Civil Affairs Bureau, a police official MOVE considered to be Rizzo's main architect in the plot to eliminate it. MOVE defendants cross-examined Fencl for four days until Judge Malmed ordered the witness excused. On Friday, Jan. 18, Judge Malmed removed all defendants from the courtroom for disorderly behavior, ordering their backup attorneys to take over the case. Each Monday after that, according to Anderson and Hevenor, “the MOVE defendants were taken into court and again asked to pledge to obey the judge’s orders.” They never did and were never allowed to be present during the trial again.
Eight defense witnesses, including several reporters, neighbors, and one of the negotiators, testified that the first shot fired had been fired from outside the MOVE compound, contradicting earlier prosecution testimony from various police officers that the first shot was fired from the basement of the MOVE house.
In closing arguments held on May 5, the various court-appointed MOVE attorneys urged the judge to weigh just how circumstantial the evidence in this case was: no fingerprints on the weapons the police claimed to have recovered from the house, no ballistics to prove that Officer Ramp was killed by a bullet fired from the compound, and no eyewitness testimony of anyone claiming to have seen a MOVE member shoot Ramp. How could the judge even consider convicting nine people for the murder of one man who had only been shot once?
It took Judge Malmed just three days to reach his verdict. The 68-year-old jurist pronounced Delbert Orr Africa, Janine Phillips Africa, William Phillips Africa, Deborah Sims Africa, Chuck Sims Africa, Michael Davis Africa, Janet Holloway Africa, Merle Austin Africa, and Edward Goodman Africa guilty of third-degree murder, conspiracy, and multiple counts of attempted murder and aggravated assault. On August 4, Judge Malmed sentenced each defendant to 30 to100 years in state prison. Consuela Dotson Africa, who refused to disavow MOVE, was later sentenced in a separate trial to 10-20 years by Judge Levy Anderson, who added on another three-and-a-half years for contempt. (Dotson was paroled in 1994. Merle Austin Africa died in prison in 2000. The other seven became eligible for parole in 2008.)
After the trial, when Judge Malmed was asked on a radio call-in program who actually fired the fatal shot that killed Officer Ramp, the judge, according to Bisson, replied, “I haven’t the faintest idea. They call themselves a family. I sentenced them as a family.”
The trial of the three police officers indicted for brutalizing the now convicted Delbert Africa would not be held until 1981. D.A. Rendell’s office brought to trial Officers Zagame, Charles Geiest and Terrance Mulvihill on assault charges. (No charges were brought against Officer D’Ulisse who was photographed wielding the rifle butt.) Attorneys for the D.A.’s office presented photographic evidence of these police officers assaulting Delbert Africa. Just before the jury was to start its deliberations, Judge Stanley Kubacki ordered the jury dismissed and the officers acquitted. (Geist would be shot by his police officer wife during a “domestic dispute” three months after his acquittal, go into a coma and die eight months later. Mulvihill would commit suicide in 1989.)