Myth # 7
Myths About Mumia
Evidence was presented at trial verifying that just before being taken inside the hospital emergency room, Jamal crudely claimed credit for the murder, shouting, “I shot the mother fucker and I hope the mother fucker dies.
This, as you might suppose, is something of a problem for the proponents of Jamal’s supposed innocence. Having supposedly just watched someone else commit the murder, and having remained oddly silent about the someone else running away (not even complaining about his brother’s failure to mention it), Jamal suddenly decided to say, “I shot the mother fucker[.]” Hardly the conduct of an innocent man.
Jamal’s supporters allege that the Philadelphia Police, who supposedly have a reputation for intimidating and framing defendants, fabricated a story about Jamal’s confession at Jefferson Hospital on the morning of the killing. They point to the fact that the two police officers that heard the confession didn’t report it until 2 months later, and that one of them, Officer Gary Wakshul wrote in his report, “The Negro male made no comments.” On this basis, they insist that the testimony of the officers is not true.
The confession was heard by a hospital security guard and reported by her the next day. Officers Gary Bell and Gary Wakshul each stated that they failed to write about the confession in their reports because they were emotionally devastated after seeing their friend and partner with a fatal hole in his head. They did not even remember what they had written in their reports immediately after the shooting.
Taken alone, the officers’ explanation would certainly warrant some doubt. But the testimony of hospital security guard Priscilla Durham removes that doubt. She heard Jamal shout, “I shot the mother fucker and I hope the mother fucker dies” outside the ER, and made an immediate report of the incident. A copy of the report was produced at the 1982 trial and was identified by Ms. Durham. Priscilla Durham’s corroborates what the officers heard that morning and reported later, and demonstrates that it was an actual event, not an invention.
Jamal’s supporters don’t know what to make of Priscilla Durham’s testimony because it devastates their myth that Jamal never uttered his two self-incriminating statements at the hospital. They usually fail to mention her at all, but when they do they resort to ridicule or some other brush-off device. At one of his many public speeches at a rally for Jamal, Leonard Weinglass got a big laugh from Jamal fans by dismissing Ms. Durham as someone who “wanted to be a policeman.” The real joke, however, is on the effort to try to explain away Jamal’s confession. The fact of Ms. Durham’s testimony destroys the myth that the confession was made up by the police after the fact. And the fact of the confession destroys — once again, in yet another way — the myth of Jamal’s supposed innocence.
FACTS SUPPORTING OUR REBUTTAL
Scoffing at the testimony of the two police officers who heard Jamal’s Emergency Room confession, his supporters often claim that any person hearing Jamal’s outburst in the hospital would have reported it immediately. They rarely mention that a hospital security guard, Priscilla Durham, did exactly that. They don’t mention her because her testimony does not fit in with the supposed conspiracy to frame and convict Jamal.
Because Priscilla Durham’s testimony supports the testimony of Officers Bell and Wakshul, Jamal’s supporters often claim that she was part of a great conspiracy to frame Jamal. Yet in her 1982 testimony Durham stated that she had no idea who Mumia Abu-Jamal was when he made his statements as he lay on the ground, outside the Emergency Room doors.
“At this time I didn’t know [who he was]… all I did was hear him say, I shot the mother fucker and I hope the mother fucker dies.”
N.T. 6/24/82, 28
To refute the idea that Jamal “confessed” outside the Emergency Room, his supporters often point to statements made by Dr. Anthony Colletta — the Emergency Room doctor who attended to both Jamal and Faulkner — in an HBO-TV documentary on the case. In that program, Colletta stated that, from the moment he was with him, Jamal made no comments and that he was on the verge of unconsciousness while in the hospital. (For information on Dr. Coletta’s actual testimony read on.) Priscilla Durham’s testimony refutes this idea and confirms that Jamal was struggling with police when he shouted his self-incriminating remark immediately outside the automatic doors to the Emergency Room, before Colletta ever saw him.
“When I opened the door and told the police officer which way to bring him [Mr. Jamal] they were still, you know trying to control him. He again shouted, I shot the mother fucker and I hope the mother fucker dies.”
N.T. 6/24/82, 30
When asked where Jamal was when he made these statements, Durham replied:
“He was at my feet.”
N.T. 6/24/82, 28
Priscilla Durham explained that she had come down to the area adjacent to the Emergency Room to see if she could assist in any way. Upon hearing both of Jamal’s incriminating outbursts (there were two) Durham testified that she reported what she had heard to her hospital supervisor the following day. The District Attorney first became aware of Durham’s report while she was being cross-examined by Jamal’s attorney.
Prosecutor McGill sent a detective to Jefferson Hospital to bring the report back to the courtroom.
Durham: “I had already given a statement.”
Jackson: “To whom?”
Durham: “Jefferson [Hospital] investigators.”
Jackson: “When did you give that [statement]”
Durham: “The next day.”
Jackson: “Your honor, I’d like a copy of that statement and I’d ask that before I proceed with my cross-examination I get a copy of the statement.”
ADA Joe McGill: “I would be – I’ve never seen one, Your Honor. It’s Jefferson Hospital material. I would be very glad to have it brought over.”
N.T. 6/24/82, 47
A short time later, the report arrived from Jefferson Hospital. It plainly stated that it was made the day after the shooting (12-10-81), to Jefferson Hospital authorities, not to police. It confirmed that Priscilla Durham had, in fact, reported Jamal’s outburst to her supervisor in the time frame she had stated. The report reiterated the same facts stated by Durham in her testimony regarding Jamal’s confession.
Today, attempting to conjure up the idea that the report is a fabrication, Leonard Weinglass, HBO-TV, and author Stewart Taylor, point out that the report was typed, while Durham stated that she gave her report orally. Further they point out that the report was not signed by Durham. In his 1995 PCRA argument, Leonard Weinglass claimed that Priscilla Durham actually “disavowed” the report on these grounds.
A review of the trial record shows that Weinglass’ representation of Priscilla Durham’s testimony is just another lie.
In 1982, after reviewing the hospital report, Anthony Jackson asked Durham about the accuracy of the typed report. Despite Jackson’s attempts to discredit the report, far from “disavowing” the report as Leonard Weinglass states, Priscilla Durham repeatedly insisted that the report was a typed version of the oral report she had given to her hospital supervisor the morning after the shooting and that the information contained in the report was an accurate description of the events she witnessed.
Jackson [Jamal’s lawyer]:
Question: Show it to the witness, please. Read it, Miss Durham. You’ve had an opportunity to review D-14 [the statement]; is it correct?”
[Miss Durham] Answer: “Yes.”
Question: Earlier when I asked you with regard to the statement that you perhaps gave to your supervisor at Jefferson Hospital, you indicated that you dictated a statement orally; is that correct?”
Question: “Is that the statement?”
N.T. 6/24/82, 97
Having asked Durham to confirm that her statement was given orally, Jackson attempts to get her to disavow the typed statement.
Jackson [Jamal’s lawyer]:
“So any statement that would be presented to you that purports to be your statement would be a guess on your part. Is that right?”
Jackson: “It wouldn’t be a guess?”
Durham: “I’d know if I said it or not.”
Jackson: “You would know word for word what you said?”
Jackson: “So how would you know if it was your statement?”
Durham: “Because I know what I said.”
N.T. 6/24/82, 99
To further confirm the authenticity of the typed report, and that it had been made the morning after the shooting, the prosecutor took Durham through it, line by line, then asked her to confirm the day she gave her report.
McGill [The assistant DA]:
“Now, would you read the next statement, the next line?”
[Durham] Answer: “Miss Durham stated that Jamal shouted, “Yeah, I shot the mother fucker and I hope the mother fucker dies.”
Question: “You said that on December 10, 1981?”
Answer: “Yes, I did.”
N.T. 6/24/82, 113
THE DEFENSE ATTACKS PRISCILLA DURHAM
While being questioned in February 1982 (two months after the shooting) by Police Internal Affairs Officers regarding a police brutality claim brought by Jamal, officers Gary Bell and Gary Wakshul stated they also heard Jamal’s confession. The myth that Jamal’s confession was faked rests entirely on the fact that the officers waited so long to report it. But that myth falls apart, because Durham heard it too, and reported it the next day. At the time they gave their statements to Internal Affairs, the officers had no knowledge of the written report that Ms. Durham had made to her supervisor the morning after the shooting. Nor did Durham know that the officers had failed to report what Jamal had said.
Beyond blatant fairy tales such as claiming that she “disavowed” her report (which was identical to her in-court testimony), Jamal’s attorneys have no response for the fact that Ms. Durham reported what she heard within hours of the shooting. They have, however, attacked her personally, stating that she was a personal friend of Officer Faulkner, and that she was susceptible to police coercion. They have also announced that others at the hospital were part of the ever-expanding “conspiracy” to frame Jamal by producing the allegedly fabricated report.
So, was Officer Faulkner a friend of Durham’s? Well, Pricilla Durham claimed to have spoken to Officer Faulkner prior to the shooting while she was working at the hospital. But she stated that he was simply a casual acquaintance, not a close friend. She further stated that the extent of their relationship was that they had, on occasion, had a cup of coffee at the hospital.
Priscilla Durham, who is black, had no axe to grind against Jamal. She testified that she had never heard of Jamal prior to the incident. She also stated that she had no idea who he was when he was brought into the hospital and shouted out his remarks about killing Faulkner.
If there was a skillful conspiracy, why was it so badly handled that Bell and Wakshul forgot to report the confession? It must be remembered that these are the same Philadelphia Police that Leonard Weinglass regularly alleges were so “skilled at framing defendants,” that they organized five supposedly phony eyewitnesses, none of whom knew each other, at the crime scene. In less than 20 minutes, the clever police conspirators got all of these people (even Robert Harkins) to agree to tell the same made up story about the shooting, and they did such a good job that all of the eyewitness accounts meshed perfectly and stood up under hours of cross-examination months after the event. How could such skilled craftsmen of framing be so effective at the crime scene only to make such a glaring mistakes with the “phony” confession?
Given all the testimony and evidence, it becomes clear that the conspiracy theory of Jamal’s lawyers does not even amount to a clever lie. It is an unreasoning, paranoid fantasy.
WHY HAD THE OFFICERS WAITED
SO LONG TO MAKE THEIR REPORT?
At the 1995 PCRA hearing, when asked why they had waited nearly two months to report what they had heard, and more importantly, why Wakschul had written “the Negro male made no comments” in his report that morning, both Bell and Wakshul freely admitted that they were emotionally overwhelmed and not thinking rationally during and after the time when Jamal made his outbursts. Both officers stated that they had just seen Officer Faulkner, their friend and partner, in the hospital with a substantial portion of his head missing, and as stated by everyone, “there was total chaos” in the small emergency room that morning.
In 1995, while being questioned by defense attorney Dan Williams, Officer Wakshul testified about his mental state the morning of December 9, 1981.
Williams: ” Okay, you say you weren’t mentally alert at times. Can you explain that for us?
Wakshul: “I was mentally alert when I assisted in getting Mr. Jamal into the hospital and placing him on the floor. At that point Mr. Jamal, there was some discussions, some talking going on all around, but I heard Mr. Jamal say I shot him and I hope the mother fucker dies. I was stunned at that point. I stumbled back into a little alcove and started to cry. Covering myself by going outside, closing up the wagon and getting myself together.
I remember after that being in Homicide but I have no recollection of anything further that night until early in the morning of that morning, the following morning, when I was leaving work in my car, and running into a cement pole with my car. And at that point, I had more control over myself at that point.”
N.T. 8/1/95, 25
Officer Wakshul stated that once he heard Jamal’s “disgusting” statement, everything became a series of “snapshots” to him. He has freely acknowledged that he was severely disturbed at the time he wrote his report and that he cannot explain away what he wrote. It may not be convenient for the defense, but the statement made by Gary Wakshul in his report, is consistent with his testimony today. In 1998, the Supreme Court reviewed Wakschul’s testimony and found him to be “credible.” Further, they noted that had Wakshul been called to testify by the defense in 1982, his testimony would have only served to strengthen the prosecution’s case because he would have repeated the testimony given by Priscilla Durham and Gary Bell.
In an article written for The American Lawyer, pro-Jamal author Stewart Taylor suggests, “The idea that he [Wakshul] had heard Jamal confess but hadn’t bothered to report it is patently incredible.” Well, no it isn’t. Taylor’s opinion about what is incredible must be judged by, for example, his willingness to accept defense theories for which there is no evidence. The evidence, as opposed to unsupported opinion, shows that Officer Wakshul was emotionally devastated at having just seen his friend’s dead body, and so failed to make a timely report of Jamal’s confession.
That is hardly “incredible,” especially in light of Priscilla Durham’s testimony and next-day report of the same confession.
OFFICER WAKSHUL WAS NEVER
“SENT AWAY ON VACATION”
In his book, “Race for Justice,” Mr. Weinglass wrote that “The jury … never heard from Wakshul because the police made him unavailable by sending him “on vacation.” This defense attack on the prosecution’s evidence hinges on yet another defense conspiracy theory.
The court records show that Jamal and his trial attorney never notified the court that they intended to call Gary Wakshul as a witness. There was no reason why anyone would have expected them to want to, since Wakshul had already given statements indicating that he, like Officer Bell and Ms. Durham (who had already testified) had heard Jamal confess to the murder. For Jamal to call Wakshul would be to call another witness to his own guilt. Court records show that at the time Officer Wakshul was called to testify, Jamal was not representing himself. But on the last day of trial, Jamal ordered Jackson to call Wakshul. By that time, however, Wakshul — who had hung around for the first week or so of the trial — had left the city on vacation. Since the defense had given no notice of wanting to call this witness, the judge was not going to postpone the trial on its last day in order to wait for Wakshul to return. In the 1995 PCRA hearing, Wakshul finally testified, and confirmed that Jamal did, indeed, confess to the murder.
The 1995 PCRA evidence explained that the process of selecting vacation dates required Officers to blindly pull dates form a hat early each year, in a system similar to a lottery. Written records and the testimony of several individuals were produced at the hearing verifying that, long before the trial began, Officer Wakshul had selected the two weeks leading up to the 4th of July weekend for his vacation. Despite his planned vacation, and the fact that he was not on the defense witness list, Officer Wakshul voluntarily stayed in Philadelphia until late June. When it became clear to him that he was not going to be called, Wakshul left town on vacation, as he had every right to do.
Wakshul was unavailable at the 1982 trial because Jamal waited until the last minute before deciding he wanted to call him.
WOULD OFFICER WAKSHUL’S
TESTIMONY HAVE FREED JAMAL?
In their 1995 closing argument, the defense stated:
“…there are certain types of evidence to blow the lid off of a case. And it’s rare for a defense counsel to have that kind of evidence that literally blows the lid off a prosecutor’s case, but Wakshul’s testimony is that sort of evidence. And that’s why the jury should have heard that evidence. It goes beyond simply refuting the confession. It casts a pall over the entire prosecution case, because it proves the lie to the confession and it proves how low the prosecution was willing to go in this case.”
N.T. 9/11/95, 12
This was a typically absurd exaggeration. By the time of trial, Wakshul had already given a statement describing how he heard the confession. Had he been called as a “defense” witness at that time, he would have testified that Jamal had bragged about murdering Officer Faulkner, just as Officer Bell and Ms. Durham had done. Hardly evidence to “blow the lid off.” While Jamal would have been able to impeach Wakshul with his earlier statement in which he had failed to report the confession, Jamal had done the same thing with Officer Bell — to no effect. Like Bell, Wakshul would have explained his prior error with his emotional devastation at the murder of his friend. While Stuart Taylor likes to describe this reaction as “incredible,” it is in fact entirely human and understandable. Officer Bell had said the same “incredible” thing, and the jury found that he was telling the truth. Since the jury didn’t consider Bell’s testimony incredible, there is no reason to suppose they would have felt differently about Wakshul’s identical account. Thus, had Wakshul testified in 1982, his testimony would have only served to corroborate the damaging testimony of Officer Bell and Priscilla Durham. This is exactly what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded in their 1998 decision.
DID THE DA AND POLICE MEET
SECRETLY TO FABRICATE A CONFESSION?
In their 1996 documentary on the case, HBO-TV allows Jamal himself to tell us that there was a “secret meeting” held in which the DA asks the police who were present, “Anyone got a confession or anything?” If the defense had evidence to support Jamal’s claim of a “secret meeting” to discuss the concoction of his confession, they certainly would have produced it in 1995 in order to put it on the record and gain Jamal a new trial.
Yet, in 1995, Jamal never offered any evidence to support this allegation. Instead, Jamal’s supporters twist the testimony of Officer Gary Wakshul in which he states that, in February 1982, Joe McGill asked a group of Officers who were involved in the case, in an ordinary trial preparation meeting, if any of them had heard Jamal’s statement.
While testifying in 1995 and being questioned by the defense, Officer Wakshul is questioned by Dan Williams about this meeting:
Williams: “Prior to the trial, did you meet with any persons from the District Attorney’s Office?”
Wakshul: “I believe either in January or February of 1982, having a prep meeting with Mr. McGill in reference to this case.”
Williams: “What do you mean by prep meeting?”
Wakshul: “I believe he [McGill] was the assigned prosecutor and he was going over different facets of the case with a large group of parties.Police Officers I believe were the only ones, and detectives, who were present.”
Williams: “So he was prepping several people at the same time?”
Wakshul: “It was basically a large round-table discussion of events. I don’t recall specifics of it. I believe that there were, there were some preliminary reports that he was going over, but I don’t really recall in depth what happened.”
Williams: “Did McGill explain to you at all that the reason to have a group meeting is to make sure that all the testimony conforms to each other?”
Wakshul: ” No, I don’t recall any such–“
Williams: “You don’t recall him explaining that to you?”
Williams: “Did the subject of a confession ever come up?”
Wakshul: “I believe it did.”
Williams: “Was there any inquiry directed at you personally about the troubling fact that you had not mentioned the confession on December 9th or December 16th or thereafter until February?”
Wakshul: “No, I believe what happened was Mr. McGill said did anybody hear his statement. I know I raised my hand, but I don’t recall any further discussion about it.”
N.T. 8/1/95, 79
Prosecutors routinely meet with witnesses to go over their testimony prior to trial — not, as Mr. Williams fraudulently suggested “to make sure that all the testimony conforms to each other.” There was no “secret meeting,” and there was no “secret plot” to fabricate a false confession. The argument that there was is just another paranoid fantasy concocted by Jamal’s lawyers, with no basis in reality.
CERTAINLY DR. COLLETTA WOULDN’T
LIE ABOUT THE CONFESSION?
The myth-makers like to toss in Dr. Colletta as supposed “evidence” that Jamal did not confess. What makes this argument silly is that Dr. Colletta — much like you and I — simply was not present when Jamal confessed. The doctor, unsurprisingly, was inside the hospital, while Jamal was outside the entrance to the ER when he confessed.
In the HBO documentary, Dr. Coletta does in fact state, “From the moment I was with him, he never made this statement.” What the HBO program chooses not to tell you is what the court transcripts reveal. In his trial testimony, Dr. Coletta stated that he saw Jamal for the first time in a hospital room. This room was obviously inside the the hospital. When he bragged about murdering Officer Faulkner, Jamal was outside, in front of the automatic doors to the Emergency Room. He had not encountered Dr. Coletta yet. Needless to say, the fact that Jamal did not confess to everyone he met does not prove that he did not confess at all.
Also missing from the HBO documentary is the fact that when he arrived at the hospital, Jamal violently struggled with police and then refused to accept medical treatment. The hospital staff was required to have a judge issue a Court Order before Dr. Coletta could treat Jamal. This process took several hours. To further paint a distorted picture of a dying and docile Jamal, HBO has Coletta state that Jamal was almost comatose by the time he first saw him and that he was certainly in no condition to shout out or resist the police. What HBO doesn’t tell you is the considerable amount of time that passed before Dr. Coletta even approached Jamal.
When the actual record is examined, the HBO sham is exposed. Dr. Coletta was telling the literal truth. Jamal made no statement while he was “with him.” Jamal had already made his incriminating statements long before Doctor Coletta arrived to treat him.
WHY WOULD JAMAL CONFESS?
Jamal’s supporters have argued that his background as a reporter would somehow preclude him from making an incriminating statement in front of witnesses. We fail to see how training as a journalist would prepare someone to commit murder and then take the proper steps to avoid being prosecuted for it. People involved in a stressful, unfamiliar, emotionally-charged situation often do surprising and unwise things.
Jamal had been shot in the chest. He knew that he had been caught red-handed at the scene of the murder, and that he had tried to pick up his gun in an effort to shoot the first officers to arrive. Since it was obvious to him that his guilt was indisputable, Jamal evidently decided to forget his “training as a journalist” — whatever that might mean — and revel in his life-long dream of murdering a police officer. He bragged about murdering Officer Faulkner because he was proud of it. Indeed, nothing he has ever said, to this day, suggests any feeling other than pride, on Jamal’s part, in connection with this killing. The supposedly innocent Jamal has never made even the most fleeting expression of regret at Officer Faulkner’s death. That is because Jamal takes pride in having caused it.
CONCLUSION REGARDING THE CONFESSION
If one wants to believe the defense allegation that the police and the District Attorney’s Office conspired to concoct a bogus confession, then you must also believe that a private citizen and an unknown number of Jefferson Hospital officials also voluntarily joined in this alleged vast conspiracy to frame an innocent man.
It’s understandable that Jamal’s supporters, who often appear to be unaware of Priscilla Durham’s written statement made the day after the shooting, would claim that Officers Bell and Wakschul’s were liars. That these officers were late in reporting it does make their evidence less than perfect. Yet their statements are supported by Priscilla Durham’s credible testimony and the report produced by the hospital. There is no reasonable explanation for the testimony and statement given by Priscilla Durham, except that they are the truth.
The alternative theory posed by the defense, that several individuals from several different and distinct organizations came together to conspire on their testimony and to fabricate a fake hospital report, is nothing more than a fantasy of Jamal’s supporters.
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