In the early morning hours of Dec. 9, 1981, a young bride named Maureen Faulkner was awakened by a knock at her door. Standing outside were three members of the Philadelphia Police Department. They were there to inform Maureen that her husband of just more than one year, Officer Danny Faulkner, had been shot in the line of duty. Maureen didn’t know it yet, but her husband was already dead, and she had just taken the first step in a 26-year-plus odyssey — which continues today — in search of justice for her husband’s murderer.
Danny Faulkner’s murderer — a former Black Panther and would-be media figure who calls himself Mumia Abu-Jamal — was found guilty of that crime by a racially mixed jury on the basis of a multitude of physical evidence and several independent eyewitness accounts. One prosecutor called the murder case against Abu-Jamal the strongest he had ever seen. When Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death by that same jury, the grieving Maureen took some small comfort in the knowledge that at least justice would be served. But it was not to be.
Through a cruel convergence of political correctness, the “rights of the accused” movement, America’s broken appeals process and good, old-fashioned conartistry, Abu-Jamal forged a new persona for himself out of whole cloth: the innocent political activist railroaded by a racist legal system. As his rejected appeals began to pile up, Mumia finally, ironically, achieved the notoriety that had eluded him during a failed career as a radio commentator. Today, as the favored “political prisoner” of America’s two most gullible constituencies — college students and Hollywood celebrities — Abu-Jamal enjoys international acclaim, lucrative book deals, publication in academic journals, speaking invitations and even a regular soapbox on network radio. Meanwhile, Abu-Jamal’s appeals continue, with no end in sight, while in some quarters calls for his release from jail grow louder. Throughout this legal charade, now in its 27th year, one courageous woman has stood up for the rights of the man she loved, a man who can no longer speak for himself. A man named Danny Faulkner. (For more information on this case, visit DanielFaulkner.com.)
In her new book Murdered by Mumia (available at HEBookService.com), Maureen Faulkner tells us how she went from being a policeman’s widow to being a crusader on behalf of justice, devoting her life to responding to the “Free Mumia!” cult’s disinformation campaign and fighting for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s lawful sentence to be carried out. In the years since Danny’s death, Maureen Faulkner has created a new life for herself in Southern California, one she shares with her companion Paul Palkovic.
I sat down recently with Maureen at her home to discuss how Murdered by Mumia came to be written.
Was there some specific incident that made you become an activist in this case?
MAUREEN FAULKNER: Yes, there was. For many years after the initial trial and conviction, the case was quiet. I moved out here [to Southern California], I found a new career in the medical industry and things were quiet. Not a whole lot going on.
Then, in 1995, National Public Radio did something that really changed my life. My Uncle Bill sent me a newspaper article saying that NPR was going to air Mumia Abu-Jamal’s commentaries from Death Row. I read this article and I’m telling you, I was like a caged animal. That’s what really pushed me over the edge. I said, “I can’t believe this, I can’t believe NPR is going to air these commentaries.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal is behind bars. He murdered Danny with, I believe, malice and premeditation. What is wrong with our justice system? When people are murdered, the murderer’s voice should be taken away from him. He should not be heard. Why should society care about what Mumia Abu-Jamal has to say, after what he’s done? I was awake all night. I remember I was crying, and Paul said, Maureen, this is the beginning of the firestorm. Leonard Weinglass, who is Abu-Jamal’s defense attorney, is pretty renowned.
He’s going to start going around to his celebrity friends and getting support for Mumia, and I think you’re looking at a long battle as long as this man is his attorney. You have to make a decision. It’s like a boxing ring, Paul said. You’re going to get in the ring, and you’re going to fight, and you’re going to punch, and you’d better pick and choose your fights because you can’t fight ’em all. And then there are going to be times when you’ll be able to sit in the corner and take a breath. Or, he said, you can just throw your hands up in the air and let the chips fall where they may, say, “I’m just going to let the justice system handle it. I’m going to walk away. I live a different life now, out here in California, and I just have to believe that the justice system is going to handle the case properly, that justice will prevail.”
And I said to Paul that I just can’t allow this to go on without getting involved. It will hurt me more, it will rip my soul out more to allow this to go on and not take action. At least I would know I was trying to do something to make a difference.
You wrote to a number of prominent doctors you knew from your work who were big NPR contributors, telling them about the plan to air commentaries by Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the public radio network eventually dropped the idea. Was your campaign a factor in their decision?
FAULKNER: Oh, yes. I remember sitting here the morning of the day that Mumia’s commentaries were supposed to air, and my phone rang. The person asked, “Is this Mrs. Faulkner?” I said, “Yes.” And she said, “This is [‘All Things Considered’ producer] Ellen Weiss.” I said, “Hello.” She said, “Your wish has been granted.” Then she hung up on me.
Why did you decide to write Murdered by Mumia?
FAULKNER: Mostly to let the American people know how badly the appeals system is being abused and to help the families of other murder victims who find themselves ensnared in this obscene process. This book provides a living example of how ridiculous our federal appeals process has become.
How did you get started writing the book?
FAULKNER: I met my co-author Michael Smerconish in 1994. Back then he was still an attorney in private practice, but now he’s an author and a syndicated radio talk-show host. Michael had been very intrigued by the case because everyone knew about Danny’s murder, so, one day, Michael came to court and he watched the opposition, the Mumia supporters, scream at me … I was actually spit on during the 1982 trial. So after that day in court Michael bumped into me, and he said, “I’ll help you in any way I can.” Since then, Michael has been my friend. We contact each other from time to time, bounce things off each other, and then about three years ago he said to me, “You know what, Maureen? I think your life needs to be put on paper.” And I told him that it’s so personal, and he said, “You know what? Your version of what has gone on here need to be put down in history.
With your family, the Faulkner family, and yourself, all the anguish you’ve gone through, because all we ever hear is, ‘Free Mumia!’ but no one ever talks about those who are left behind to pick up the pieces.”
Writing the book was very emotional, but it was very therapeutic for me. It was emotional when the final edit came in and I read 26 years of my life, and I just sobbed.
How did you happen to choose Murdered by Mumia for the title of the book?
FAULKNER: We bounced titles back and forth, Michael and I, and [publisher] Globe. They thought it would be good to call it Murdered by Mumia, but I had a hard time with it. I sat down and wrote a heart-wrenching letter to Globe saying that I didn’t know if I wanted my life story having Mumia’s name on it.
And not Danny’s?
FAULKNER: And not Danny’s. But the publisher said to me, for so many years Danny’s been the forgotten one, but everyone knows Mumia Abu-Jamal’s name. So if you want people to read your story, the sad part is you have to have Mumia’s name on it. Especially for the college kids, who’ve been taught by their professors for so many years that Mumia was railroaded, that he’s a political prisoner. Maybe this will change their minds — which it has: I’ve received e-mails from people who did change their minds on this case.
Plus, I think this title has really angered Mumia. I stuck it back in his face, is what I did.
Why did so many college kids embrace Mumia and his cause?
FAULKNER: I think back then, this was before 9/11, that college students were looking for someone that they could protest about. College kids always want a cause to fight for, and I think Leonard Weinglass was able to get onto all these college campuses and talk about the political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. How he was railroaded. How he was set up by the police. How he did not receive a fair trial.
Why did the Hollywood left, including Mike Farrell, Sean Penn, Ed Asner, Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg, embrace Mumia as their hero?
FAULKNER: Mumia is an articulate, moderately intelligent
radical with a distinctive speaking voice who hates this country and everything it stands for. Plus he has this romantic persona — the dreadlocks, the attitude.
Kind of like Che Guevara?
FAULKNER: Right, very similar. Do you remember the full-page New York Times ad in 1998 in support of Mumia that was signed by all those Hollywood celebrities? I took the list of those names, and I sat down and hand wrote a letter to each and every one of them, saying, “Look, you put your name down in defense of this man years ago. This is the book of what has gone on in my life. All I’m asking you to do is read what I’ve gone through.”
You sent them each a copy of Murdered by Mumia?
FAULKNER: Yes. When Mike Farrell got his book, he happened to be in the middle of a TV interview with Fox News. This was not planned. They were interviewing him at his agent’s office when the courier showed up and handed him the package. So Mike Farrell opened the package with the book, and he read my letter, and the Fox News guy asked him, “You’ve read the letter. You have the book in your hands. Are you planning to read Mrs. Faulkner’s book?” And Mike Farrell said, “If I can find the time.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been a college commencement speaker, via videotape, at Evergreen State College in Washington State, and also at Antioch College in Ohio. Have you ever been invited to be a commencement speaker?
If someone asked you to, would you?
FAULKNER: Yes. In fact, when Evergreen State College had Mumia as their commencement speaker, I picked up the phone and called Jane Jervis, the president of the school, and asked her if she could give me 15 minutes to speak. I said, “I won’t even talk about the case. I’ll talk about the survivors of violent crime.” But Jane Jervis said no.
Then, when Antioch decided to have Mumia as a commencement speaker, Jane Jervis wrote a letter to the president of Antioch saying that I had made money from my husband’s murder. And one of the reporters got a hold of this letter, and I told Evergreen, “You know what? Your president has claimed that I had made money off my husband’s case. She’d better prove it, I said, or your school is going to pay. And I will take the money I get from your school and put it into my non-profit.” I said that Jane Jervis has two ways to go. She can prove that I profited from my husband’s death, as she said in this letter, or she can apologize to me. If I do not get an apology, I’m going after the school. And she called and apologized.
Mumia has been able to avoid being executed by filing a seemingly endless series of appeals. How exactly does the appeals system work in a capital case like this?
FAULKNER: There is no limit on the number of appeals you can file. As long as they can bring before the court new evidence, and the courts find it credible, you have to go through another PCRA [Post-Conviction Relief Act] court hearing. This is what the family and I have been going through. I was back in court in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and again in 2001. It just goes on and on and on. It never ends.
So theoretically a condemned person could just keep doing this for the rest of his natural life?
FAULKNER: As long as he’s well-financed, yes. And the “Free Mumia” movement is making a ton of money from selling his books and other items on their website.
Why doesn’t the Son of Sam law, which bars murderers by law from profiting from their crimes, apply to Mumia in this instance?
FAULKNER: I was so angry when I found out that Mumia was making money off his first book that I went back and read the Son of Sam Law. The way it’s worded is that you cannot profit off your actual crime. So the way Mumia gets around it is that he doesn’t talk about the crime itself in his books and articles and radio commentaries. He talks about his experiences on Death Row, but he does not talk about the crime. So that’s how all of these murderers have been able to make money, and the money goes into their defense funds.
Why not just grant Mumia a new trial, as his supporters are demanding? If he’s as guilty as you say, wouldn’t you get the same result?
FAULKNER: First of all, he already received a fair trial in 1982. Since then, a number of the prosecution witnesses have died. And if any new evidence needed to come forth they’ve already had the courts look at it during all those PCRA appeals. Why should the Faulkner family and I have to endure another trial? Danny’s two remaining brothers and I would have to go through the pain of sitting and, once again, more than a quarter of a century later, looking into the eyes of what I call this very evil man who murdered my husband. Why? Why should we have to endure that when it’s already been proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Mumia murdered Danny?
Why not just change Mumia’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole?
FAULKNER: Because there’s no way of guaranteeing that he would never get out. Governors come and go in the state of Pennsylvania, and the stroke of a governor’s pen could set him free. I also feel that, as long as he is behind bars, the justice system allows his voice to be heard, which is haunting to our family. I’m also thinking of the other victims, and survivors, and how they live in the same fear I live in.
I know some town in France named a street after Mumia Abu-Jamal, but is it true that there’s a road named after Danny Faulkner now?
FAULKNER: Yes, it’s the part of Route 1 that goes through Northeast Philadelphia. It used to be called Roosevelt Boulevard, and now it’s called the Daniel Faulkner Memorial Highway.
Wasn’t there also a proposal to name a street in Harlem after Mumia?
FAULKNER: Yes, but the NYPD got all up in arms about it, and they passed a petition around saying that they were against it, and it never went through.
All of the proceeds from Murdered by Mumia are going into your charitable fund. What can you tell us about that?
FAULKNER: There’s a police organization called the Hero’s Scholarship Fund for the children of police officers killed in the line of duty — for their education. And I thought to myself, OK, but what happens to civilian kids whose parents aren’t police officers, who are murdered? Who helps them? Who remembers them? Who thinks about them?
So about five years ago I started the Daniel Faulkner Educational Grant Fund. When I started it, our first fundraisers were motorcycle runs, and then Joey Vento from Gino’s Cheese Steaks in Philly had a fundraiser for us. In one day he gave every single cent of his proceeds to our educational fund — that was $65,000 in one day. That’s what really put our educational fund on the map. Oh, and everyone on our board of directors are all volunteers. No one receives salaries or stipends. Nothing. All the money we raise, other than for administrative stuff like stationery, goes to the kids. We go to the Special Victims Unit, in Philadelphia, and we seek out these children.
So how much have you raised and given out so far?
FAULKNER: First of all, our publisher Globe gave us $170,000 up front for the book. So we handed a $170,000 check over on December 10, and then the Irish Pub does this Tour to Shore, and they gave us a $50,000 check to our educational fund. The wife of a police officer who remembered Danny came into some money, and they handed us a $15,000 check. People are so good. I just put in another $10,000 from checks that people gave. We awarded $25,000 in scholarships on December 10. The money goes into an annuity for the kids, and it has to go towards their education. It can just sit in there until they make a decision as to where they want to study, but it must go for their education.
Why are you giving these grants only to kids from Philadelphia?
FAULKNER: Because Philadelphia is where Danny was murdered, and it’s my home, and I can bring the city together if I can make people understand that it doesn’t have anything to do with race or color or creed, it has to do with another human being losing his life and trying to help these children. And people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds have come up and thanked me for this.
What’s the latest on Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case?
FAULKNER: His latest appeal is in front of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals right now. They’re supposed to make a decision pretty soon.
This appeal was filed based on 29 points, and a judge found merit in one of them?
FAULKNER: Yes. He says that the jury may not have been — I repeat, may not have been — properly informed of the definitions of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
And “soon” just means sometime this year, right?
FAULKNER: Let’s hope so.
And the 3rd Circuit judge could call for a whole new trial, or just a new sentencing trial, or he could uphold the verdict, right?
Last question: In all of your years in Southern California, have you ever found a good Philly cheese steak sandwich?
Thanks for speaking with us today, Mrs. Faulkner.
FAULKNER: Thank you.