The release of Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain and Injustice was a somber affair–or as somber as it could be at a Barnes & Noble in a strip mall in Deptford, N.J.
Outside, policemen lined the entrance. Inside, every seat was taken, and customers holding copies of the book–co-authored by conservative radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner, Daniel Faulkner’s widow–stood in the aisles.
Supporters wore their colors with pride, representing the Blackwood Fire Company, the Emerald Society of the Camden County Police and Fire Department, the Gloucester County Emerald Society, the Pennsauken Emergency Medical Technicians, the Carpenters Local 1856, the Teamsters Local 623, the Gloucester County Lambs Terrace Fire Company, and others whose T-shirts were hidden beneath Flyers jackets.
An African-American man in a suit–the only black person in attendance–parted the crowd to make way for a man carrying an American flag, another carrying an Irish flag and a fleet of kilted bagpipers who made their way past the international cookbooks, sexuality and inspiration sections. They stopped next to the religious fiction table and played “Amazing Grace.”
Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner appeared at a blue-draped signing table. Smerconish talked about the book proprietarily, speaking of “my motivation in writing the book,” and saying he thought he needed to correct the record. But Murdered by Mumia is written in Faulkner’s first person, and her voice wavered as she said, “This is a very moving moment for me. Today, 26 years ago, was the last day I spent with Danny alive.”
She asked the crowd to thank the police community by applauding. One who did so was wearing a T-shirt reading: “OFFICER DANNY FAULKNER WAS MURDERED BY MUMIA ABU-JAMAL WHO SHOULDN’T BE IN AN 8′ x 10′ CELL. HE SHOULD BE 6 FEET CLOSER TO HELL!”
Behind him, an EMT speculated about pro-Mumia protesters. “If they show up at Geno’s, they’re going to have problems,” he said, referring to the Sunday-night book-signing at Joey Vento’s joint.
Murdered by Mumia comes at a time when Abu-Jamal is closer than ever to receiving a new trial. The book is published by the Lyons Press, which describes itself this way: “The Lyons Press is proud to publish the most distinguished list of fishing books in the world.”
It’s a long book, with an appendix of trial outtakes and statements by eyewitnesses. It covers such issues as the embrace of Abu-Jamal by Hollywood stars, his appearances on National Public Radio and his multiple legal petitions.
But before even 30 pages have elapsed, the authors have twice reiterated: “It was really that simple” and “an unfortunate yet simple tale.” This absolutist view of the case–unsurprising from a grieving widow, but beneath the discursive powers of a Penn Law School grad and active member of the Pennsylvania Bar–pervades the book.
Murder and subsequent entanglement with the criminal justice system is never simple.
There’s the problem of eyewitness misidentification, for example, which–according to the Innocence Project–is the No. 1 reason for wrongful convictions in the United States, playing a role in 75 percent of convictions overturned through DNA testing.
There’s the problem of tampering with evidence. Newly released photographs, taken by a journalist, of the Faulkner murder scene are seriously at odds with those presented by the police and prosecution. One of the photos, according to Reuters, shows two guns in an officer’s bare hands, suggesting the officers didn’t preserve evidence in the way they’d claimed.
Why are the photographs different? That’s not a simple question.
There’s the problem of predominantly white juries sitting in judgment of black men. In 2005 African-American Harold Wilson, a convicted murderer, became the 122nd person freed from death row. Philadelphia assistant DA Jack McMahon was found to have used racial bias to load Wilson’s jury with white people. Based on claims of ineffective counsel–and subsequent DNA evidence–Wilson was acquitted. That case, with similarities to Abu-Jamal’s, is as complex as they come.
Amnesty International doesn’t see Abu-Jamal’s case as a simple one. It takes no position on his guilt or innocence, but in a 2000 report the organization advocated for a new trial, saying: “The law enforcement community’s unseemly agitation for the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal is just one of Amnesty International’s concerns over this case.”
There are the complexities of judicial incompetence, prosecutorial misconduct and a death penalty that’s been discontinued in 13 states because of the inability to ensure we’re not killing innocent people and not killing guilty people cruelly and inhumanely.
So what does the death penalty really mean? For Maureen Faulkner, what can bring her peace?