lawyers and supporters of for-mer Black Panther and death-row darling Mumia Abu-Jamal held a press conference on the steps of Philadelphia's City Hall Tuesday (August 28) to unveil the latest in a growing line of witnesses who've recently come out of the woodwork to back Abu-Jamal's claim of innocence.This witness has come forward to claim she overheard the judge in the case say he was going to "fry" Abu-Jamal, who has spent the last 20 years on death row for the 1981 shooting death of Philly cop Daniel Faulkner.
"Just when you thought you'd heard it all," begins the press release issued by Abu-Jamal's lawyers.
It's been a tumultuous few months in the case of Abu-Jamal, aka Wesley Cook, versus the Commonwealth of the State of Pennsylvania.
Arnold Beverly, a self-described former mob hit man, has confessed that he, not Abu-Jamal, shot and killed Faulkner in the early-morning hours of December 9, 1981 -- supposedly for standing in the way of mob payoffs to crooked cops.
And Abu-Jamal has broken his own eerie silence to offer his first-ever account of the Faulkner shooting. He says he was shot, blacked out and couldn't remember much of anything when he came to except the fury going on around him.
Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, the man Faulkner stopped that fateful night on the corner of 13th and Locust minutes before his death, has sworn his own affidavit. It should be a time of cautious optimism for Abu-Jamal.
But as the case lurches toward a final appeal for a new trial, there's trouble in the Abu-Jamal camp and among activists the world over who've turned his case into a cause célèbre.
Abu-Jamal recently fired the long-time head of his legal team, famed New York defence lawyer Leonard Weinglass. Gone, too, is the team's chief legal strategist, Daniel Williams.
Both were relieved of their duties over the publication of Williams's inside account of the case, Executing Justice. Abu-Jamal went to court but failed to block its publication.
The 400-page book paints a less than flattering portrait of the behind-the-scenes workings of the case and of the political movement types and celebrities who've coalesced around the once-promising radio talk show host and author.
In particular, it details both Weinglass's and Williams's dissatisfaction with the growing influence of Abu-Jamal's political supporters in decisions about legal strategy.
Executing Justice also highlights deep divisions within the legal team, particularly over the use of defence witnesses who've come forward over the years to offer what Williams describes as "preposterous" versions of what happened that night.
Williams tells NOW over the phone from New York City that he wrote the book to restore the case's waning credibility, especially in the court of public opinion.
"We were entering a critical phase (in the appeal process)," Williams says. "The case was rapidly becoming marginalized, this oddity. We were losing the opportunity to raise consciousness among a broader group of people. Mumia understood this."
Williams says that Weinglass privately expressed concerns of his own about the undue influence Abu-Jamal's political supporters were having on the case.
Weinglass, however, declined to comment on the matter when reached by NOW in New York City. "I don't want to do or say anything," Weinglass says, "to hurt Mumia. I must protect Mumia."
Weinglass, a veteran of left political causes, joined Abu-Jamal's defence team in 1992 and has presided over most of his appeals. He's been one of Abu-Jamal's most vocal backers, and the two are very close. "Grandpa," Abu-Jamal affectionately calls him.
But court documents filed recently by Abu-Jamal's new legal team roundly condemn both Weinglass's and Williams's handling of the case.
Those documents call the publication of Williams's book "an extraordinary act of betrayal" and suggest that Weinglass and Williams used Abu-Jamal to enhance their professional reputations.
"They made money out of him. They fed on the faith and trust (Abu-Jamal) placed in them. They sucked the lifeblood out of him... and then, when he had outlived his usefulness to them, they threw him away, ruthlessly stabbing him in the back."
The documents go on to claim that Williams and Weinglass suppressed evidence helpful to Abu-Jamal's case -- including that offered by Arnold Beverly, the mystery man who now claims to be Faulkner's killer.
Not much is known about Beverly, except that he's currently in hiding.
He says in an affidavit made public by Abu-Jamal's lawyers at a press conference in May that it was he who stood over and pumped bullets into Faulkner as the officer lay wounded on the sidewalk that December night in 81.
"I had heard that Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity, including prostitution, gambling (and) drugs," Beverly's affidavit says.
It's an incredible story, one that's been dismissed by Mumia detractors as part of an attempt to stretch out the appeals process and delay his inevitable execution.
One long-time observer of the case notes that proving Abu-Jamal's actual innocence is a far riskier legal proposition than arguing for a new trial.
Michael Farrell, a member of Abu-Jamal's current legal team, admits Beverly's is a hard story to swallow.
"I would acknowledge that the length of time it's taken him to come forward and the fact that he's confessing to a capital crime stretches the imagination," Farrell says.
But he says he can't understand why Abu-Jamal's previous legal team didn't make use of Beverly, who, Farrell says, passed a lie detector test. (Williams says that several lie detector tests taken by Beverly when Williams was part of Abu-Jamal's defence team returned only "mixed" results.)
Williams calls Beverly's version of events "insane," and says Abu-Jamal agreed with the decision (although Farrell denies this) not to make use of Beverly when he first surfaced with his story back in the spring of 99, for fear of further damaging the defence's credibility.
"Look at his affidavit," Williams says. "Does he offer specifics? No."
Only two weeks ago, a judge rejected a bid by Abu-Jamal's lawyers to have Beverly deposed and his affidavit made part of the official trial record. He ruled, among other things, that allowing Beverly's affidavit would amount to giving credence to a wide-ranging conspiracy involving eyewitnesses, police and the medical examiner who testified in the case.
But Beverly's emergence has prompted Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, the man who said, "I ain't got nothing to do with it" when police arrived to find Faulkner that night, to come forward with his own version.
Abu-Jamal has also broken his long-held silence for the first time.
He never testified in his own defence or offered an account of what happened that night in any of the three books he's written while on death row or in any of the countless interviews he's done.
The version put forward by the prosecution has always been that Faulkner and Abu-Jamal exchanged gunfire after Abu-Jamal happened upon an altercation between the officer and his brother.
The bullets retrieved from Faulkner's body matched the gun registered to Abu-Jamal and found at the scene.
The version Abu-Jamal offers in his own affidavit sheds precious little new light.
He says he was shot by a uniformed cop (Faulkner is not specified) as he came across the street to his brother's aid.
"The next thing that I remember I felt myself being kicked, hit and being brought out of a stupor," Abu-Jamal says. "When I opened my eyes, I saw cops all around me."
The next time he came to, Abu-Jamal says, he was in the back of a paddy wagon. He says he never confessed to killing Faulkner, as witnesses have testified he did.