The Fleeing Man

Raising Doubts About the Guilt of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Abu-Jamal's original defense attorney, Anthony Jackson, never bothered to call Singletary as a witness because prosecutors allegedly turned over "the falsified account" rather than the accurate statement he had made at the scene. "Had the state disclosed Singletary's true statement, [his attorney] also would have learned that shortly before the shooting Singletary saw Cynthia White nowhere near the site she claimed to be when the shooting occurred," his current lawyers note. "More importantly, Singletary would have impeached White's account in another way [because] she had asked Singletary, upon the arrival of the police at the crime scene, 'What happened?' "

In the court documents, Abu-Jamal's lawyers declare that police also withheld physical evidence that corroborated Singletary's story of the Fleeing Man. At the 1995 hearing, Edward D'Amato, a retired police captain and witness for the prosecution, confirmed that police had found a driver's license application belonging to a third man, Arnold Howard, on the slain officer but suppressed it. The captain also admitted that some detectives at the scene initially pursued the Fleeing Man theory. But this information, crucial to Abu-Jamal's defense, was left out of the documents handed over to his lawyer.

"Although the prosecution had given the defense what purported to be an interview statement of Howard, the statement was misleading and incomplete because it did not explain that this document, belonging to another man, was found on the officer's body or that police regarded Howard as a possible suspect or witness who had fled the scene."

Howard testified that he had given his license to Kenneth Freeman, the vending-stall partner of William Cook, Abu-Jamal's brother, "raising the strong implication that Freeman was riding with Cook on the night of the shooting and was the shooter who fled the scene." This "strong implication" further led lawyers to assert that "Freeman was the passenger with William Cook, and he was not found at the scene when police arrived."

In piecing together the events that night, the defense recalls that Singletary, the black businessman, had testified at the hearing that the shooter emerged from the passenger side of Cook's car. "Howard testified that he was taken into custody shortly after the shooting on suspicion that he was involved in the shooting and had fled the scene."

Abu-Jamal's original lawyer never got wind of Howard's earlier statement to police. "The state withheld these facts from the defense and instead provided a witness statement which Howard says was not accurate and on which his name was forged," the condemned man's new lawyers charge. "According to Howard, several officers came to his home before dawn and took him into custody. Howard testified he was transported to various police venues for the next 72 hours [and then] asked to sign a statement. The police also tested his hands to see if he had fired a gun."

Howard also told of two other suspects who were in police custody the day he was interrogated. One of them was Kenneth Freeman. In February 1982, two months after the shooting, Richard Ryan, a detective with the Central Division, arrested Kenneth Freeman. Ryan's partner that day was James Forbes, a stakeout cop, who was one of the first officers on the scene after Faulkner was shot, and a key prosecution witness at Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial. The day after police bombed MOVE's headquarters, Freeman was discovered dead in Philadelphia under mysterious circumstances.

Despite alleged efforts by police TO cover up evidence of the Fleeing Man, Abu-Jamal managed to call Dessie Hightower as a witness. Hightower had seen the Fleeing Man, and what he saw could have changed the outcome of Abu-Jamal's trial. But angry cops, hoping to pin Faulkner's murder on Abu-Jamal, muddied things up again for the defense.

"Hightower," Abu-Jamal's appeal attorneys say, "was also subjected to police pressure to change his story, including being subjected to a polygraph test during the course of six hours of questioning, after having told police that he saw a man flee the scene." None of the other witnesses, including Cynthia White, were subjected to a polygraph test. "In polygraphing Hightower, law enforcement never broached the pivotal issue—namely, the issue about the man seen running away from the scene—thus giving rise to the compelling inference that the polygraph was administered to intimidate this witness."

As the story goes, police told Hightower he had passed the polygraph, "although the testing officer claimed in 1995 that the results showed 'deception,' " the lawyers argue. "If police knew Hightower passed the test but falsified the results and ignored his account," they add, "it would establish the worst kind of due process violation. Knowing that Hightower passed the test would itself have affected the defense trial preparation. As things stood, attorney Jackson [Abu-Jamal's original lawyer] did not even interview Hightower before he took the stand."

And what about Deborah Kordansky, a white woman who saw a man running from the scene after the shooting? Kordansky never got to tell her story at Abu-Jamal's trial because his lawyer couldn't find her. But there is an explanation for that, the appeal lawyers contend in their petition for a new trial. Abu-Jamal's attorney "never made a genuine effort; the prosecution redacted her address and phone number from her witness statement; and the trial court refused to provide adequate funds for a defense investigator who could have devoted the time and effort to secure her attendance."

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