Thursday, August 27, 2009

A German Surrender On Mumia

By Michael Smerconish - Daily News
Philadelphia Daily News

Daily News Opinion Columnist

ALMOST 30 years after Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered her husband, Maureen Faulkner has won the battle for justice on the domestic front. Now she's poised to triumph in the European theater as well.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear Abu-Jamal's appeal for a new trial. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia has upheld his conviction for the murder of Officer Danny Faulkner. In other words, Abu-Jamal will never get out of jail.

The high court has yet to rule on a separate appeal on whether Abu-Jamal deserves a new sentencing hearing. But Seth Williams, in all likelihood Philadelphia's next district attorney, told me before this spring's Democratic primary, "I have studied the case, reviewing case notes and the legal filings. I have even attended court hearings and studied the forensics. From my review of the evidence, if there was a new sentencing hearing I would ask for the death penalty."

SUCH unequivocal support for Maureen Faulkner has been less forthcoming overseas. In 1995, 100,000 people in Rome signed a petition opposing Abu-Jamal's execution. Former French first lady Danielle Mitterrand has visited Abu-Jamal in prison. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has supported clemency for the convicted killer. So have dozens of members of the Danish parliament.

In December 2001, almost 20 years to the day after Faulkner's murder, Paris' city council declared Abu-Jamal an honorary citizen. Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb, named a street after him.

Leonard Weinglass, Abu-Jamal's former lawyer, emphasized the significance of his client's "German support," in an extensive Vanity Fair piece published in August 1999. In March, the Academy of the Arts in Berlin hosted an event attended by Gerhart Baum, Germany's former interior minister, in support of Abu-Jamal.

So Maureen Faulkner was skeptical when I told her that Der Spiegel, among Germany's widest-read publications (it says it sells a million copies a week), wanted to interview her for an extensive article it was preparing.

Despite the steady stream of misinformation and vitriol that has originated on the other side of the ocean, she decided to speak with the reporter, Cordula Meyer. The resulting article, published Monday, is a turning point in Maureen's effort to overcome the Abu-Jamal propaganda machine.

Unlike most of the European "reportage" on the case, Der Spiegel's piece doesn't kowtow to the ravings of Abu-Jamal supporters and lawyers. Meyer traveled to Waynesburg, Pa., to interview Abu-Jamal on death row. She acknowledges the international cause célèbre the convicted killer has become. But her writing is never overcome by it.

Just the opposite. The article goes so far as to examine one of the more common Abu-Jamal fallacies - that a man named William Singletary saw the "real" killer fleeing the scene - and quickly dismisses it. A rarity among the international press corps.

Most damning is Meyer's acknowledgment that reporters who interview Abu-Jamal must promise not to ask about what happened in the early-morning hours of Dec. 9, 1981.

Abu-Jamal is reduced to saying, "It was a day like every other." Robert Bryan, his lawyer, says little more. Meyer notes that Abu-Jamal has never explained to a judge what happened the day Danny Faulkner was killed.

The article's stunning conclusion is the acknowledgment that Maureen Faulkner may be winning the battle for truth and justice.

The international press has long been predisposed to side with Abu-Jamal - or at least try to make him the poster boy for anti-death-penalty activism.

One piece in one publication won't erase those stains. But it could be the first trickle of a watershed moment.

After almost three decades, Abu-Jamal is finally in danger of exhausting his time in the U.S. courts. Here's hoping a usually captive European audience has finished accommodating a police officer's murderer as well.

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at

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