Friday, February 19, 2021

How the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office suppressed evidence that placed a fourth person, Kenneth Freeman, at the crime scene

--Please sign our Color of Change petition to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner: Stop Defending Mumia Abu-Jamal's Unjust Conviction

(This is one segment of the original artwork created by Seth Tobocman to support our petition campaign. It is the centerpiece of our newspaper and can be viewed on the website here.)

Written by the Jamal Journal

Authors Michael Schiffmann (“Race Against Death: The Struggle for the Life and Freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” 2006), and J. Patrick O’Connor (“The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” 2008) both argue that the actual shooter of Officer Faulkner was a man named Kenneth Freeman. Schiffmann and O’Connor argue that Freeman was an occupant of Billy Cook’s car who shot Faulkner in response to Faulkner having shot Abu-Jamal first, and then fled the scene before police arrived.

Central to Schiffmann and O’Connor’s argument was the presence of a driver’s license application for one Arnold Howard, which was found in the front pocket of Officer Faulkner’s shirt. Abu-Jamal’s defense would not learn about this until 13 years later, because the police and DA’s office had failed to notify them about the application’s crucial location. Journalist Linn Washington argues that this failure was “a critical and deliberate omission” and “a major violation of fair trial rights and procedures. If the appeals process had any semblance of fairness, this misconduct alone should have won a new trial for Abu-Jamal.”

More importantly, Washington says, “This evidence provides strong proof of a third person at the scene along with Faulkner and Billy Cook. The prosecution case against Abu-Jamal rests on the assertion that Faulkner encountered a lone Cook minutes before Abu-Jamal’s arrival on the scene, but Faulkner got that application from somebody other than Cook, who had his own license.”

At the 1995 PCRA hearing, Arnold Howard testified that he had loaned his temporary, non-photo license to Kenneth Freeman, who was Billy Cook’s business partner and close friend. Further, Howard stated that police came to his house early in the morning on Dec. 9, 1981, and brought him to the police station for questioning because he was suspected of being “the person who had run away” from the scene, but he was released after producing a 4 a.m. receipt from a drugstore across town – which provided an alibi – and telling them that he had loaned the application to Freeman, who Howard reports was also at the police station that morning.

Also pointing to Freeman’s presence in the car with Cook, O’Connor and Schiffmann cite prosecution witness Cynthia White’s testimony at Cook’s separate trial for charges of assaulting Faulkner, where White describes both a “driver” and a “passenger” in Cook’s VW. Also notable, investigative journalist Dave Lindorff’s book (“Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” 2003) features an interview with Cook’s lawyer, Daniel Alva, in which Alva says that Cook had confided to him within days of the shooting that Freeman had been with him that morning.

Linn Washington argues that “this third person at the crime scene is consistent with eyewitness accounts of the shooter fleeing the scene. Remember that accounts from both prosecution and defense witnesses confirm the existence of a fleeing shooter. Abu-Jamal was arrested at the scene, critically wounded. He did not run away and return in a matter of seconds.” Eyewitnesses Robert Chobert, Dessie Hightower, Veronica Jones, Deborah Kordansky, William Singletary and Marcus Cannon all reported, at various times, that they saw one or more men run away from the scene.

O’Connor writes that “some of the eyewitnesses said this man had an Afro and wore a green army jacket. Freeman did have an Afro and he perpetually wore a green army jacket. Freeman was tall and burly, weighing about 225 pounds at the time.” Then there’s eyewitness Robert Harkins, whom prosecutor McGill did not call as a witness. O’Connor postulates that the prosecutor made that decision because Harkins’ account of a struggle between Faulkner and the shooter that caused Faulkner to fall on his hands and knees before Faulkner was shot “demolished the version of the shooting that the state’s other witnesses rendered at trial.” O’Connor writes further that “Harkins described the shooter as a little taller and heavier than the 6-foot, 200-pound Faulkner,” which excludes the 6-foot-1-inch, 170-pound Abu-Jamal.

Linn Washington’s 2001 affidavit states that he knew Freeman to be a “close friend of Cook’s” and that “Cook and Freeman were constantly together.” Washington first met Freeman when Freeman reported his experience of police brutality to the Philadelphia Tribune, where Washington worked. Washington says today that “Kenny did not harbor any illusions about police being unquestioned heroes due to his experiences with being beaten a few times by police and police incessantly harassing him for his street vending.”

Regarding the police harassment and intimidation of Freeman, which continued after the arrest of Abu-Jamal, Washington adds: “It is significant to note that the night after the Faulkner shooting, the newsstand that Freeman built and operated at 16th and Chestnut Streets in Center City burned to the ground. In news media accounts of this arson, police sources openly boasted to reporters that the arsonist was probably a police officer. Witnesses claimed to see officers fleeing the scene right before the fire was noticed. Needless to say, that arson resulted in no arrests.”

Dave Lindorff argues that the police clearly “had their eye on Freeman,” because “only two months after Faulkner’s shooting, Freeman was arrested in his home, where he was found hiding in his attic armed with a .22 caliber pistol, explosives and a supply of ammunition. At that time, he was not charged with anything.” O’Connor and Schiffmann argue that police intimidation ultimately escalated to the point where police themselves murdered Freeman.

The morning of May 14, 1985, Freeman’s body was found: naked, bound and with a drug needle in his arm. His cause of death was officially declared a “heart attack.” The date of Freeman’s death is significant because the night before his body was found, the police had orchestrated a military-style siege on the MOVE organization’s West Philadelphia home. Police had fired over 10,000 rounds of ammunition in 90 minutes and used a State Police helicopter to drop a C-4 bomb – illegally supplied by the FBI – on MOVE’s roof, which started a fire that destroyed the entire city block. The MOVE Commission later documented that police had shot at MOVE family members when they tried to escape the fire: In all, six adults and five children were killed.

As a local journalist, Abu-Jamal had criticized the city government’s conflicts with MOVE and, after his 1981 arrest, MOVE began to publicly support him. Through this mutual advocacy, which continues today, Abu-Jamal and MOVE’s contentious relationship with the Philadelphia authorities have always been closely linked. Seen in this context, Schiffmann argues that “if Freeman was indeed killed by cops, the killing probably was part of a general vendetta of the Philadelphia cops against their ‘enemies’ and the cops killed him because they knew or suspected he had something to do with the killing of Faulkner.” O’Connor concurs, arguing that “the timing and modus operandi of the abduction and killing alone suggest an extreme act of police vengeance.”

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