Posted Dec 1, 2001
Frailty of the Ballistics Evidence in the Case Against Mumia Abu-Jamal
By Lori Allen
As it was told at the trial, the prosecution laid out an "open and shut" case based on the theory that three men were on the scene at 13th and Locust Streets on December 9, 1981: William Cook, Officer Daniel Faulkner, and Mumia Abu- Jamal. Faulkner was shot in the back and in the face, the head wound being fatal. Mumia was shot in the chest with the bullet traveling in a downward trajectory from his lung to his liver, approximately a 30-degree downward angle. William Cook was a motorist pulled over for reasons undisclosed to him, and unexplained to the public, who wound up convicted for assaulting Faulkner (a peculiar charge considering that event lead up to the officer's death-usually prosecutors would go for, at the minimum, an accessory to murder charge).
THE PROSECUTION'S THEORY
As it was told at the trial, Faulkner radios in at 3:51:08 about his traffic stop and asks for assistance. He quickly changes his mind a requests a police wagon (a strange request for a single passenger). Cook is reported to have gotten out of his vehicle, a Volkswagen (VW), and, as he admits, get into a verbal confrontation with the officer. Witnesses claim to have seen Cook hit Faulkner, and Faulkner return blows with his flashlight to subdue Cook.
As it was told at the trial, Mumia rides by and sees his brother's VW, pulls into the parking lot directly across the street, and runs across to help aid his brother. He runs up behind Faulkner as he was frisking Cook and shoots him in the back from less than 2 feet away. Faulkner spins around, firing one shot into Mumia's chest and falls backwards onto the pavement as he is on his back, Faulkner is now reported to be debilitated. Mumia then straddles the fallen officer, places both hands on his .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver and unloads at the officer, one of the four bullets hitting approximately between the eyes. Mumia stumbles a few feet away and slouches on the curb where officers find him.
Again, the story goes that Mumia ran up behind Faulkner, shot him in the back, straddled him, unloading his 5- chambered revolver, and killed the officer with a fatal head shot.
CONFLICTING EVIDENCE OF HOW MUMIA AND FAULKNER ARE SHOT
First of all, according to the prosecution, Faulkner had just been in a physical confrontation. It is police procedure to be alert to their surrounding when they pull over a motorist. How could he have not heard a man running towards him, on concrete, getting as close as two feet away without him looking? Mumia weighed around 160-170lbs. and was tall. He was not likely to have been a silent runner.
Secondly, it is highly improbable that Mumia would have shot Faulkner in the back, allowed him to pull a revolver from his gun holster, spin around, and then fire off a shot before attempting to shoot again. If he was so angry that he would shoot in the first place, why would he give the officer an opportunity like that to kill him?
Thirdly, if Mumia straddled Faulkner for the final blow, traces of lead residue or blood should have been found on Mumia's pants and shoes. According to the scenario presented at trial, Mumia should have stained just about every garment he was wearing except his underwear in blood and lead traces. As well, there should have been reports of fragmentation from the sidewalk found on the body of Faulkner. There were no lead traces on the sidewalk surrounding the officer's body. There were no divots in the sidewalk. Lastly, there were no fragments or bullets found on the sidewalk, or in Faulkner, despite these other shots supposedly being fired all around him.
As for the tale of how Mumia was shot, it has been said that Faulkner shot Mumia as he fell. That argument has been used time and again. It is, however, not the best argument since the prosecution alleges that he spun around, fired, and then fell. From there, plenty of points can still be argued.
First of all, anyone who knows a police officer personally knows that they love their guns. They carefully take them apart to clean them. They practice their ability to shoot targets both stationary and moving. And boy do they KNOW their guns. Faulkner was no exception to the rule. He was a hunting enthusiast and he was aspiring for higher rank on the force. He was about to take the detective's examination. Also, he worked the Center City area where he needed to have a reliable weapon for his defense, the crime in Center City is not to be taken lightly.
The prosecution and police department would have one believe, however, that Faulkner carried a revolver in shameful condition. The weapon matched to Mumia's wound, and presented as Faulkner's service revolver was a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson. The gun contained powder fouling, had dirt and lint in the chambers, and it would not cock as designed in single action because of oversized rubber grips. To top it all off, it even had a bent hammer spur. This was hardly the weapon of an ambitious police officer who was working for a position as a detective.
Even if one believes the gun was Faulkner's, there is still one MAJOR problem. Three prosecution witnesses claim to have seen Mumia shoot Faulkner with no obstruction to their views, as the Justice for Police Officer Daniel Faulkner website claims. Michael Scanlon, Cynthia White, and Robert Chobert all claim to have seen the shooting. Scanlon was in his car, Chobert was directly behind Faulkner's squad car in his taxi cab, and White was perfectly "placed" at the Southeast corner of 13th and Locust, close to the scene. None of them saw Faulkner shoot Mumia. In fact, no one claims to have seen it besides Arnold Beverly and Mumia.
To recap, shot #1: Mumia shoots Faulkner in the back, which is reported by 2 prosecution witnesses, shot #2: Faulkner shoots Mumia as he spins around, then he falls, which NO ONE sees, and shots #3-6: Mumia is standing over Faulkner and unloads at his face, all 3 prosecution witnesses say they saw this. One witness for the defense, Dessie Hightower, reported that Faulkner's gun was in its holster as police removed his body from the scene.
As well, Mumia's lung was punctured from that shot to his chest. Both he and his brother reported that he was gasping for air. It would be rather difficult to have finished the officer off the way he did in that condition. Also, none of the witnesses reported seeing him having any sort of trouble breathing as he stood over Faulkner's body. It is highly unlikely, medically speaking, that such would not be reported by witnesses.
Although the prosecution presented the theory that no one else was at the scene to the jury, there was one unmistakable piece of evidence linking another person to the scene in the form of a driver's license application. Arnold Howard's application was found on Faulkner's person at the scene. Howard was arrested and held for an extensive amount of time in question. He reported to have loaned it to his friend Kenneth Freeman that night. So another person, Freeman, is now linked to the crime scene.
As most people have been informed, there was no test of Mumia's hands or his gun to determine when the gun was last fired. The prosecution dismisses this by saying there was a struggle and that would have caused the evidence on his hands to have been contaminated and make the test unreliable, as well as the claim that the test kits were not available. The kits were apparently available for the police to do lead residue tests of the entrance way to 1234 Locust Street, though.
The track record of the Philadelphia P.D. also does not support this claim. When Howard and Freeman were held for questioning, both of the were subjected to hand swabbing, despite the fact that they were not arrested at the scene and the police had no knowledge of what kind of evidence contamination could have taken place in the time lapse between the shooting and their being picked up. Also, on August 8th, 1978, the headquarters of the MOVE Organization was attacked in a police raid. Members of MOVE were all given hand swab tests after having thousands of gallons of water thrusted at them from 2 deluge hoses, after wading in muddy waters, having to crawl out of basement windows, climb over debris, and being subject to malicious beatings (Delbert Africa's beating was caught on tape and the rest of the MOVE 9 arrested that day claim to have received the same treatment from arresting officers). Does all of that not count as contamination?! Yet, Mumia's hands were not swabbed.
An intriguing point is the description of Mumia having both hands on the gun as he straddled Faulkner. Supposedly, he placed both hands on the revolver and fired the rest of his rounds at the officer's face. Interestingly enough, neither Faulkner's alleged gun, nor Mumia's had any fingerprints lifted from their guns.
So where did this all take place? According to the Justice for Faulkner website, it was in front of Faulkner's squad car, behind the VW. The crime scene photos do not illustrate this, but, rather they back the account given by Cook in his affidavit. The large doorway of 1234 Locust Street is decorated with trim. This doorway was almost directly between the VW and the squad car. The doorway of 1232 Locust Street was located at the very front of the VW. It was here that the blood stain ran from slightly further in than the center of the sidewalk downward towards the curb.
THE SO-CALLED EYE-WITNESSES
As was stated before, 3 prosecution witnesses claim to have seen the actual shooting. The Faulkner website, whose creators would not comment on the inaccuracies of their site, says they had "unobstructed" views. Unfortunately, that is a lie, even by some of the eye-witnesses'' own statements. All of their views were very much obstructed. The crime scene was close to 4 am-in the dark, only lit by the flashing lights of the squad car.
The easiest to discredit is Robert Chobert. He was sitting in the driver's seat of his cab behind the squad car, 2 cars back. It is impossible to have no obstruction to his view while having to look through two parked cars at night and no street lights. According to Officer James Forbes in a report about the scene, he describes Chobert as being drunk and wandering around the crime scene, which was supposed to be secured. Chobert also had 2 major reasons to change his testimony and lie: 1) he had a suspended licence for driving because of a DUI, and 2) he was on probation for throwing a Molotov cocktail into a schoolyard for pay. When those 2 reasons are put together, the equivalent is jail time for violating his probation for driving a cab with a suspended licence, especially while he was reported to have been drinking. The jail time would have been substantial.
Cynthia White was the prosecution's star witness. She claims to have seen the gun in Mumia's hands, firing at the officer. Oddly enough, by her own statement reported to the police, she said that she never saw Faulkner shoot Mumia because Mumia obstructed her view. If she is standing west of the scene, one quarter of a block away, Mumia would have never crossed the path between her and Faulkner, according to the prosecution. For, as it were, Mumia ran across the street, shot Faulkner, and he fell on his back with his feet facing towards the street either directly or at an angle. If Mumia straddled him, she would have had a clearer view, not an obstructed one, as she claimed to be the reason for her not seeing Mumia get shot. Dessie Hightower, the only witness to come to court and stick by his original statement that someone fled the scene, said that he spotted White at least half a block away between 13th and Juniper. White was also reported running up to the scene after the shooting, to ask people what had happened.
White was a prostitute that was named by FBI informant Donald Hersing (whose testimony largely led to the indictment and conviction of well over a dozen police officers and officials for corruption in Center City Philadelphia) as being a prostitute who turned tricks for corrupt police (Inspector Giordano, the ranking officer on the scene, was part of the indictment and resigned his position the first business day after Mumia's trial....he was never called to the stand to testify during the trial). Another witness against corrupt police whose testimony put away several officers in the 39th Precinct Scandal, Pamela Jenkins, testified that she was a friend of White's and that White confided in her that she feared for her life around Mumia's case.
Michael Scanlon did not have a perfect view either, which explains his confusion about what he says he saw. He was in his car heading east on Locust Street. At the time the first shot rang out, he was on the west side of the intersection, well over 30 feet behind Chobert's parked cab. He testified that the driver of the VW was wearing a green army coat (6/25/82;8.26). In the statement he gave on 12/12/81, he said "the next thing I know, I saw the officer laying there, then one of the males was standing over the officer. I don't know which one it was. Then I saw two or three flashes and heard shots." When he was asked to identify Mumia in back of the wagon, he said he thought that the man whom he saw was the man who was driving the VW (the one wearing a green army coat, as he stated before) (6/25/82;8.46). Neither Mumia, nor Cook, had on a green army jacket, but Kenneth Freeman was reported to have been wearing one and Arnold Beverly says he was wearing one in his affidavit.
So, if Mumia was not shot by Faulkner, than who did and when was he shot? In Mumia's affidavit, he says that he was in a cab filling out his fares log when he heard the shots. He scanned the scene in his rear-view mirror from where his car was parked on 13th Street, north of Locust. He spotted his brother stumbling with blood on his head. He crossed the street towards where Cook was screaming and was shot by a uniformed police officer. He went down on his knees, struggling to breathe.
Cook states that he did not see who shot his brother. He says that he saw him running across the street after Faulkner was shot. Next thing, he heard a shot and saw his brother drop.
Arnold Beverly states in his affidavit that "I ran across Locust Street and stood over Faulkner, who had fallen backwards on the sidewalk. I shot Faulkner in the face at close range. Jamal was shot shortly after that by a uniformed police officer who arrived on the scene."
The homicide office also gives credence to this claim that Mumia was shot by an arriving officer. Stefan Makuch, an investigator in the Medical Examiner's office, called homicide to ask who had shot Mumia. Documented in any entry in the contemporaneous Medical Examiner's Log is a recorded statement made by Sergeant Westerman, a homicide detective, at about 9 am on 12/9/81, an hour after he came off duty. According to Makuch, Westerman first consulted the other officers before responding. He said, amongst other things, "the assailant himself was shot subsequently by arriving police reinforcements."
In an in camera hearing during the course of the trial on 6/28/82, Sgt. Westerman denied that he had said by whom Mumia was shot (6/28/82;18-19). This evidence plainly suggests, however, that the general belief in the Homicide office some five hours after the shooting is that Mumia was shot by a uniformed cop who arrived after the shooting.
THE BALLISTICS EVIDENCE
The physical evidence at the scene, as reported by the police ballistics report, does not support the prosecution's scenario, either. Lead traces, blood, the lack of divots in the sidewalk, and the handling of the evidence does not support an open and shut case that proves Mumia was the shooter. In fact, it more so points to the description Arnold Beverly gives in his confession.
to the prosecution's scenario, 6 total bullets were fired: one entered
Faulkner's back and exited out the front, the second was shot into Mumia's
chest, and the other four were fired towards the sidewalk, one lodging
itself in Faulkner's brain. The physical evidence does not support this,
however, because of the location of lead traces, broken glass, and a projectile
that was tested and removed from 1234 Locust Street. The blood stain on
the sidewalk is located in front of 1232 Locust Street.
Even if the copper jacket can be accounted for on the basis that it was part of the bullet that entered Faulkner's back and exited his neck, this still leaves the evidence of the three separate bullets, which were found in or about the doorway of 1234 Locust to be accounted for. They were found too far away from the shooting to be the same bullets.
This means that if the prosecution scenario is combined with the physical evidence found at the scene and the evidence contained in the postmortem report, there were more bullets fired than can be explained by the prosecution's case against Mumia. On this basis, 8 bullets were fired at Faulkner: one recovered from the heard wound, one from the back shot, three that were fired into the sidewalk near the officer's head or body, and three that were fired towards the area around the front door of 1234 Locust Street. Mumia's gun could only have fired five shots since it is five chambered.
Another piece of evidence that doesn't factor into the equation is how three holes were identified in Officer Faulkner's jacket (Memorandum from the Laboratory Division, Criminalistics Unit, to Homicide Division dated 1/7/82). Hole 'A' is an entrance hole in the center of the back of the jacket, 19 cm down from the collar seam. Hole 'B' is an exit hole at the upper right, back collar area, through the collar and fabric, but not completely through the garment. Hole 'C' is an entrance hole at the right, front shoulder area, through the collar and fabric of the jacket, but not completely through the garment. Holes 'B' and 'C' are the entrance and exit holes respectively for yet another bullet that entered hole 'C' at the right shoulder area, traveled inside the lining of the jacket, under the outer fabric, and exited the upper right, back collar area at hole 'B.'
The police ballistics report states that the bullet taken from Faulkner's brain was "extremely mutilated and distorted.... destroying the major portion of the rifling markings" such that its general characteristics are "indeterminable." The ballistics report, which was unsigned, concluded that a comparative examination of the evidence bullet against the test fired bullets "has shown insufficient characteristic markings to permit a positive comparison." However, a photograph taken of this alleged bullet discloses a largely intact lead bullet with pronounced filing impressions. This indicates that a comparative analysis with the original exemplar bullets fired from it could have resulted in a determination as to whether or not the bullet was fired from Mumia's Charter Arms revolver.
In addition, the relative widths of the lands and grooves on the bullet reportedly taken from Faulkner's head wound is opposite of all, but a few percent of the Charter Arms revolvers produced. Thus, the prosecution's ballistics evidence (or lack thereof) itself raises a strong likelihood that the bullet in evidence from Faulkner's head wound was not fired by Mumia's gun. The police ballistics tests were admittedly "inconclusive" because properly and competently performed ballistics would exclude Mumia's gun as the murder weapon.
The autopsy report was also lacking severely in competency. It is standard practice for the body of a shooting victim to be x-rayed to locate all the bullets and bullet fragments in the body. Since Faulkner was shot while laying on a sidewalk, the ricochet from the other three shots were quite likely to fragment and lodge into the officer's body. To date, no x-rays have been located or produced from Faulkner's autopsy. This raises questions about the number of bullets, and their caliber, in Faulkner's body, as well as the problem of evidence suppression. It does not make sense that such poor investigative work would be carried out in the case of a police officer being killed, that is, unless there was something to conceal.
Mumia's gun was a .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver with a two inch barrel. As described before, the gun turned over to the investigators as being Faulkner's service revolver was a damaged and dirty .38 caliber Smith and Wesson with a four inch barrel. The gun Cook claims that is passenger Kenneth Freeman was carrying was identified simply as being a .38 caliber revolver. And, last, but not least, Arnold Beverly claims to have been given a .38 caliber Policeman's Special, as well as his own .22 caliber revolver.
At 3:52:36, one minute and 28 seconds after Faulkner's final radio transmission and 9 seconds after the first radio call in that a police officer was shot, Officer's James Forbes and Robert Shoemaker reported from the scene. They claim that Mumia was sitting on the sidewalk with his gun just inches away. Shoemaker claims Mumia reached for the gun, he kicked Mumia in the throat, and then he kicked the gun six inches to a foot away. He then claims to have told Forbes to watch Mumia while he assisted to Faulkner (6/19/82;116-117;145).
Forbes reported things differently. He claims to have picked up two guns, which he says he found within feet of Mumia almost immediately after arriving on the scene (6/19/82;154;162-163). However, at the suppression hearing, Forbes said that, when he picked up Mumia's gun, it was only a foot away from Mumia (6/2/82;2.4), that he did not see Shoemaker kick Mumia or the revolver (2.5). Forbes also testified that Mumia was on the curb in front of the VW with Faulkner about two or three feet behind him (2.13). Forbes also testified at the suppression hearing that he found a four inch barrel revolver (supposedly Faulkner's) about five or six feet away from the bottom of Faulkner's body (6/2/82;2.7).
According to radio police transcripts, Forbes and Shoemaker's account of what happened was inaccurate. After their arrival transmission, flashes and inquiries came over the airwaves about suspects fleeing the scene with the police officer's gun. It wasn't until some 14 minutes after Shoemaker's and Forbes' arrival on the scene that the first report of the suspect being in custody came and that the weapon was recovered.
Another major problem was that Forbes did not turn the weapons over at the scene to investigators. Instead, he went to the Roundhouse at 5:25 am, a full two hours after he claims to have recovered them, he turns in the guns (8/2/95;124).
Forbes also testified at the 1982 trial that the five spent casings from the Charter Arms revolver he says he found at the scene had been four Winchester .38 +P's and one Smith and Wesson. The Firearms Identification Unit report dated 1/5/82, however, recorded that the casings removed from the Charter Arms revolver were four Federal fired cartridge cases, caliber .38 Special, and a Smith and Wesson fired cartridge case, caliber .38 Special.
The physical evidence, along with police and ballistics reports, do not match the prosecution's theory of how the shooting occurred. The witnesses' testimony and police statements do not match with the physical evidence. The excuses of the prosecution and police officials does not account for the actions of the officers involved, nor does it justify the incompetence of the investigation itself. And, the sloppiness of the police handy work is not consistent with the great concern expressed by the prosecution over the death of one of their own.
It is a sad affair when a police department, backed by a crooked D.A.'s office and the Fraternal Order of Police, will go to such lengths to bury the facts in a case where a police officer is murdered. The true assassin has come forward and admitted to his egregious actions, but it is dismissed by the courts as being too late.
This is not the first time that the Philadelphia Police Department has been involved in sordid affairs. It is not the first time that the city's judiciary has done all it could to conceal the crime. It is not the first time that the D.A.'s office has turned a blind eye to the corruption of those sworn to protect and uphold the law.
If Mumia is executed, one can be guaranteed that it will not be the last time. There is no justice in executing the innocent!