These are the facts as determined in a court of law.
At 3:45 a.m. Wednesday Dec. 9, 1981, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner stopped a beat-up Volkswagen driven by William Cook. Cook got out of the car and while Officer Faulkner was using a flashlight to examine what was probably Cook's driver's license, Cook struck Faulkner. Faulkner responded by smacking Cook with the flashlight, spinning him around, and starting to frisk him.
As Faulkner searched Cook, Cook's brother—a cab driver and one-time radio journalist/black militant named Mumia Abu-Jamal (born Wesley Cook)—came up behind him and opened fire with a .38 revolver at close range. Faulkner was hit in the back, but he managed to return fire and hit his attacker in the lower chest. As Faulkner writhed on the ground, Mumia Abu-Jamal stood over the wounded officer and executed him with a pointblank shot to the head.
Those are the facts, and they led a Philadelphia jury to convict Mumia Abu-Jamal and sentence him to death. But for the last 26 years, these facts have been disputed by a powerful cadre of lawyers, liberal and radical politicians, the virulent anti-police black radical group called MOVE, and anti-death penalty celebrities. And for 26 years, Officer Danny Faulkner's widow Maureen has been fighting back with every bit of energy and resources she can muster.
She didn't have to fight back. But the Mumia supporters made her mad. And that was a big mistake on their part.
When National Public Radio made Mumia Abu-Jamal a commentator, when Rage Against the Machine played a benefit concert for Mumia's defense fund, when Addison-Wesley published Mumia's book, when France made Mumia an honorary citizen, when left-leaning Hollywood made Mumia a cause celebre, when Free Mumia T-shirts became the hot fashion accessory on some college campuses, she could have remained silent. She could have lived out her life in anonymity in Southern California with her new love Paul Palkovic.
But Maureen Faulkner was enraged by claims by the Free Mumia movement that her husband was a brutal cop, a dirty cop, or an FBI informant exposing dirty cops. She was incensed that Mumia Abu-Jamal, a one-time radio journalist who was fired for being too radical for Philly's NPR affiliate and a convicted cop killer, was canonized as a great man of letters and a "political prisoner." And she was disgusted that Mumia Abu-Jamal's voice was heard from deep in the bowels of the prison where he belonged and Danny Faulkner's voice was silenced forever.
You see, Maureen Faulkner knows the truth, and she wants everyone else to know it. Danny Faulkner was a good cop, a decorated officer who loved his job, loved his family and friends, and loved serving his community. And Mumia Abu-Jamal was, and is, a cold-blooded killer who was motivated by his pure hatred of all cops to murder her husband.
Maureen Faulkner is a strong woman who refuses to be cast as a victim. Working with Philadelphia radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, she has written and published "Murdered by Mumia," a tough, frank memoir of her life as the young wife of a police officer, a police survivor, and an advocate for murder victims.
In a recent telephone conversation, Maureen Faulkner told me: "I don't just fight for Danny. I fight for all the murdered cops." But the truth about Maureen Faulkner is that she really fights for all people who were murdered and their survivors, the people she says have been forgotten by the court system, which cares more about the rights of the accused. That's why all proceeds from her book are going to a charity she started to fund scholarships for the children of murder victims and for the children of people incapacitated by violent crime.
What do you remember most fondly about your husband?
Danny was only 25, and he had so many dreams of what he wanted for his life to be. He was in school at the time. He was going to get his bachelor's degree and eventually I think, he wanted to work in the district attorney's office.
It was 4 a.m. when the officers showed up at your door to notify you that your husband had been shot, and you were sleeping on the couch. Had something happened to make you anxious and keep you awake?
My mother was at my house the week prior to Danny's murder, and she had a terrible dream that she saw one of her sons lying on the pavement bleeding. She called each of my four older brothers from my house and told them to be careful because of her dream.
Then Danny and I had dinner the night before his murder and after dinner we went up and lay down together in bed for a while. When the alarm went off I thought I heard a shot and I jumped out of bed and I told Danny about it. He brushed it off , hopped in the shower, and got ready for work.
What was the worst part of the trial?
(She pauses for a moment to gather her thoughts.) It was very emotional on the Faulkner family, my family, and myself. We had to go into court each and every day in 1982 and have the MOVE members and the supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal lined up along the wall. When we would walk down the hall, they would yell at us how they hated police and taunt us.
I had a situation one day where I walked out of the courtroom to go to the ladies' room and someone spit on my leg. Then others said things like, "I'm glad your pig husband's dead." They were yelling different things at me. I remember walking down the hall thinking, I will not cry. I will not let them see me cry.
Why are you so convinced that Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered your husband?
I am absolutely convinced that Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered my husband, and not only that he murdered Danny, he murdered Danny with premeditation and malice.
I sat through the 1982 trial, I listened to what four eyewitnesses said under oath about what happened the night Danny was killed. I also listened to the store owner who told how Mumia Abu-Jamal several years prior came in and purchased the gun that was found at the scene of the crime and the—rare at the time—+P bullets that were used to kill my husband. Mumia Abu-Jamal was wearing a shoulder holster when he was arrested. The five spent cartridges were found at the scene of the crime.
The eyewitnesses said that Danny walked up to William Cook's Volkswagen. William Cook got out. Danny had his flashlight out, he was looking at something that William Cook handed him. William Cook punched Danny in the face. Danny backhanded him with the flashlight across the ear, turned him around, and started to frisk him. Eyewitnesses say that Mumia Abu-Jamal then came from across the parking lot. Witnesses say they saw Mumia Abu-Jamal's hand stretched out and they saw the flashes of the shots, and they saw Mumia Abu-Jamal leaning over Danny and shooting at him. They saw Danny's body jerk up off the ground.
It only took 70 seconds for other officers to arrive. The scene of the crime was virtually frozen in place. Mumia Abu-Jamal was sitting on the curb, his gun next to him, and Officer Bobby Shoemaker and Officer James Forbes arrived. Shoemaker says that when he arrived Mumia Abu-Jamal actually reached over and picked up his gun and was going to point his gun at him and he kicked Mumia Abu-Jamal and kicked the gun away from him.
I also went through the 1995 Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) hearing of any new evidence. There was actually no new evidence that came forth. William Cook (Mumia Abu-Jamal's brother) has never to this day testified what happened the night my husband was murdered. He was supposed to come to the PCRA hearing, but he never showed up. Let's face it. William Cook saw what happened and, if it wasn't his brother that murdered Danny, don't you think he would speak up and say, "Hey wait a minute. He didn't do it. Somebody else did it and ran away?" All he's ever said officially is: "I ain't got nothing to do with this."
Is there anything at all that makes you doubt Mumia's guilt?
No. There's nothing. I am absolutely positive that it was Mumia Abu-Jamal.
If you read back on his philosophy and some of his writings, he had a deep-seated hatred of police for many years. I think that he was out to murder a police officer.
How did you feel when you heard the verdict?
I felt that there would be some justice for this terrible tragedy, for this terrible crime. I felt at that moment that Mumia Abu-Jamal got what he deserved, which was capital punishment, the death penalty. At the time, I really believed that the sentence would be carried out and Mumia Abu-Jamal would become somewhat of a faded memory and people would move on in life and forget about him.
But of course, our justice system does not allow that for any survivors. The only thing that our justice system allows is the pain and suff ering that victims have to endure, going through the appellate process and parole hearings and the trauma that they have to endure for years and years when they lose a loved one.
The cult of Mumia didn't really take off until some 10 years after his conviction. What ignited it?
Leonard Weinglass was hired by Mumia Abu-Jamal as his defense attorney. Leonard Weinglass was a pretty well-known attorney at the time and he was well connected with people. He had friends in Hollywood, and he was able to give misinformation to celebrities such as Mike Farrell, Ed Asner, and Whoopi Goldberg. Then he was able to get into college campuses where he would tell a very compelling story to college professors and students about what happened the night that Danny was murdered.
Around 1995 it heightened to where it was world renowned, and I think Leonard Weinglass was making a lot of money going around the world preaching about this "political prisoner."
In 1996 at the PCRA hearing, the Rev. Jesse Jackson sat at the defense table. A reporter that I knew for one of the local channels back in Philadelphia asked me if I wanted him to ask the Rev. Jesse Jackson any questions. I said, "Yes, you make sure the cameras are rolling and ask him what happened on Dec. 9, 1981." He did, and the Rev. Jackson did not know anything about the case. I thought, How dare you ask to sit at the defense table of the murderer of a police officer and then when you are asked what happened the night of the murder, you don't even know.
This is what has happened throughout the world in this case. People have glommed on to the Free Mumia movement, and they have not taken the time to read the transcript of what went on in the trial.
Were you ever a fan of any of the celebrities who support Mumia Abu-Jamal?
No. Not really. Years ago, I used to watch M*A*S*H with Mike Farrell, but I won't watch it again.
You are something of a celebrity yourself. There are more than 550,000 Google pages about you.
Yes. Good and bad. (Laughs) Part of that is the book. They really hate me now. They ha-a-a-te me. They have a pro-Mumia book coming out to refute me. They are trying to counteract what Michael Smerconish and I have done with "Murdered by Mumia."
Is there one celebrity Mumia supporter whose actions you resent the most?
Yes. Mike Farrell. I think he has done so much damage to vicvictims and survivors of crime. I think he has no regard for what happens when another person's life is changed when their loved one is murdered. He just disregards it. He is I think a very narcissistic person. I think it's all about him. It's all about his [antideath penalty] beliefs and what he wants. And not about what other people experience. He's never walked in a victim's or a survivor's shoes, so he has no idea what they have to endure, and he doesn't care.
Look at the Tookie Williams execution several years ago. Mike Farrell was out there with all of the rest of them pleading with the courts not to put Tookie Williams to death. Mike Farrell was out there pleading to save his life. Why? Tookie Williams had no regard for human life when he shot a young girl in the face, point blank. These people create a façade for the criminal; they build them up; they put them on a pedestal; they make them the martyr. They try to make society feel sorry for the criminal, but they never go back and read what the criminal has actually done to the human being and what they did to the family that was left behind.
You could have lived your life in anonymity. You did not have to step up. What made you decide to vocally and visibly oppose the Free Mumia movement?
I think a lot of it has to do with my upbringing. My father and mother always taught me if there was an injustice being done that you should speak out and not just allow things to happen. You need to be an activist. You need to make things happen.
After Danny was murdered and it was quiet for some time, the Yale Law Journal published "Teetering on the Brink of Life and Death" by Mumia Abu-Jamal. That enraged me. Then shortly after that, National Public Radio decided to air his commentaries and pay him for his commentaries.
Paul and I were here in Southern California one night, and I had to tell Paul—this man that I love dearly—that I couldn't let this go. I couldn't allow people to vilify Danny and to let this criminal make money off of the murder of my husband. Paul answered: "Maureen, if it was me in the ground, I would want you to get up and fight for me. And I will be behind you 100 percent." So with Paul's help, I decided to stand up and speak out against Mumia Abu-Jamal.
No one can dispute your courage either. You have stuck your head in the lion's mouth. What was it like crashing the "Free Mumia" rally at the University of California at Santa Cruz?
Paul was in a suit and I was in a suit, and everyone else was wearing Free Mumia T-shirts. So they kept looking at me and wondering, who is this woman? They had no idea who I was. They were whispering among one another and Leonard Weinglass was talking to the organizer Dwight Fry. I heard Leonard Weinglass turn to Fry and say, "Oh, shit. The widow just walked in." (Laughs)
Leonard Weinglass got up to speak, and he was, believe me, softpedaling his message. He did not know what to do. Then all of a sudden he said, "I have to cut this short because I have to catch a flight." Then I stood up and asked if I could have a few moments to speak. And Fry agreed. He actually made the people respect me. A couple of people in the audience screamed out at me, and he said, "If you are going to disrespect Mrs. Faulkner, then you need to leave."
Do you think you persuaded anyone in that audience to see the truth about Mumia Abu-Jamal?
(She pauses) Actually, I do. We had a two-page flyer of facts about what happened the night Danny was murdered, and we tried to give them out to the students.
Afterward, a couple of college girls came up to me crying and one said, "Please, Mrs. Faulkner, I'm so sorry what you went through. But you need to save Mumia. Please save Mumia." She was crying her eyes out, and I thought, I can't believe this girl. It was a new take for me (laughing), "I'm sorry for what you went through but save Mumia."
Some Mumia supporters say they sympathize with you and honor your husband. Do you believe that they really do?
It's lip service. If they sympathize with me, then why do they want to cause the Faulkner family and I so much hardship by wanting this man released from prison?
They would say that all they want is a new trial, not necessarily Mumia's release.
He received a fair trial. And if they would look at the court transcripts they would realize that he received a fair trial.
If he were to get a new trial, how could it possibly be fair for either side after so much time?
Several of the eyewitnesses are deceased. They could never give him a new trial. It would not be a fair hearing because so many years have gone by. People are deceased, people have moved away, and people are ill. How could we ever re-create what happened with the eyewitness testimony?
What is the most galling myth about Mumia?
There are so many of them. Oh my gosh, it's hard to choose one. I guess if I had to choose one, it's this widespread belief that he is a "political prisoner." He's far from a political prisoner. But Amnesty International backs him as a political prisoner. That makes me sick.
It's said that time heals all wounds, but you haven't had the luxury of letting time heal because of the Mumia movement.
It has been thrown in my face for 26 years. But I'll tell you one thing, writing the book has been very, very therapeutic for me. I have to give my co-author Michael Smerconish credit for that. He came to me several years ago and said, "Maureen, you have to write a book. You have to put your story down on paper."
I said, "So much has happened in the last 26 years that I don't know where to begin." He convinced me to do it.
Do you think in retrospect that it would have been better for you—for you personally—if Mumia had not been sentenced to death? After all, a life sentence wouldn't have attracted all of the attention.
No. I don't. I think if he had not been sentenced to death there would be a higher chance that he would be a free man today. And that would haunt me even more than he haunts me today from prison.
But what if it had been life in prison without parole?
What people don't realize is that the sentence is life in prison without parole, but the stroke of a governor's pen or the appeal process can change that. There would be some loophole that they would use to get him paroled.
Do you think the cult of Mumia will ever die?
I think someday, if he's executed, it will. I mean, think about all the hype that Tookie Williams had all those years. Does anybody talk about Tookie Williams anymore?
For more information about Officer Daniel Faulkner and the case against Mumia Abu-Jamal, including the complete trial transcript, visit www.danielfaulkner.com