The KGO-TV Report: A Case Study in Irresponsible Journalism

The KGO-TV Report: A Case Study in Irresponsible Journalism

Postby admin » Thu May 15, 2014 6:12 am

THE KGO-TV REPORT: A CASE STUDY IN IRRESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM

by C. Clark Kissinger and Leonard Weinglass

Television news programs can provide us with valuable exposés and special reports that bring insight to the public. But with that special capability also comes the potential for abuse and deliberate misinformation. This paper will detail just such an abuse by KGO-TV, the ABC affiliate in the San Francisco Bay Area.

On May 7 and 8, 1998, KGO-TV broadcast a two-part series attacking the international movement to prevent the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. This series, which totaled 12 minutes in the local news segment, purported to present the true facts on this important public issue. In reality, it presented incorrect and false information on virtually every point. What is most disturbing is that this was not done from ignorance. Although opposing parties in this case presented KGO with conflicting information, the public record of the court proceedings was available for anyone who honestly wanted to determine the truth.

Here we cannot retrace the whole story of the shooting, arrest, and conviction of Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. For this we refer the reader to the many books, articles, and internet web sites dealing with the case. Our purpose here is to dissect a deliberately false story presented by KGO-TV in order that the ABC network and the management of its San Francisco affiliate can take the appropriate action to correct the public record and discipline those responsible.

The Themes of the Attack

The two-part series produced by KGO-TV was aired to coincide with two public programs in the Bay Area in support of Jamal. The basic themes of the KGO attack were that 1) Mumia Abu-Jamal is guilty beyond question of killing a Philadelphia police officer, 2) the movement to obtain a new trial for Jamal is conducted by persons, including a number of prominent cultural figures, who have little or no knowledge of the facts in the case, and 3) the “misinformation” being circulated by the supporters of Jamal all comes from one source: Jamal’s lead attorney Leonard Weinglass.

The method of the KGO series was to interview supporters of Jamal on the pretense of making a factual report. [1] Particular statements by these individuals were then edited out of their context and presented alone, each followed by an assertion that what was just said was false. KGO’s Dan Ashley would then present an alternative statement, usually beginning with the words “In fact . . .,” which was in virtually every instance itself completely false.

Here we understand that Ashley knows nothing about this case and was simply reading a script. But those responsible for the content had a responsibility to check the facts, which could easily have been done. Since KGO, either through gross incompetence or willful malice, refused to do their homework, we have had to do it for them.

The “Four Eye Witnesses”

The most basic claim of the KGO attack was that four eye-witnesses saw Jamal “come up from across the street shooting the officer in the back. The officer gets off one shot. He falls to the ground. He’s disarmed. He’s lying there face up. Jamal fires into his face and kills him.”

The first thing that should arouse our suspicion is that this description of what happened came not from interviews with the witnesses, not from the transcript of the trial, but from Hugh Burns, the Philadelphia assistant district attorney responsible for opposing Jamal’s appeals. The recording actually switches in mid-sentence from Dan Ashley to Hugh Burns, who states the words in quotation marks above. It is not clear why KGO thinks that an account of the testimony given by a prosecutor is inherently true while that by a defense attorney is inherently false. But the only way to settle the issue is to look at the entire transcript – including the 1995, 1996, and 1997 hearings – not just at selected portions provided by the prosecution.

There were, in fact, six eye witnesses to all or part of events at question who testified at Jamal’s original trial in 1982. Four more eye witnesses testified in 1995 and 1996 hearings seeking a new trial. None of the ten asserted all the points listed by Burns, and several contradicted them completely. The only one of the “four eye witnesses” whose story closely matched Burns’ scenario was Cynthia White. [2] White was so eager to present a pro-police account that she testified to everything Burns enumerated except the one undisputed fact in the case: that Jamal was shot by Officer Faulkner. She didn’t see that happen at all.

Actually it is a wonder that White saw anything, since of the nine other eye witnesses who testified in 1982 and at subsequent hearings, none of them – not even the pro-prosecution witnesses – can remember seeing Cynthia White at the immediate scene as she claimed to have been.

White had some 38 convictions for prostitution, was serving a sentence at the time of trial, and was facing several new charges at the time of Jamal’s trial. She was put up in a hotel during the trial, and was subsequently given a “get out of jail free” card by the Philadelphia police. [3] When Jamal’s legal team sought to find her for recent hearings for a new trial, the prosecution declared that she was dead. To buttress this claim they produced a death certificate for a woman in another state with a different name, whose body had been cremated, and whose finger print code did not match Cynthia White’s. [4]

The second of the “four eye witnesses” was Mark Scanlan, a passing motorist. [5] He saw Officer Faulkner beating Billy Cook with a flashlight or billyclub (something else Cynthia White failed to see) after Cook struck the officer. Scanlan testified that he saw someone come across the street, and shoot Officer Faulkner. At the scene, Scanlan identified Jamal to police as the driver of Billy Cook’s VW, and said he did not know what had become of the man who ran across the street. [6] Further, he could not say which of the two men he saw near Faulkner had shot him. [7] In his statement to police, he had Faulkner facing the man who ran across the street when he heard the first shot. He also did not see guns in the hands of either Faulkner or Jamal. [8] He could only identify Jamal’s jacket as the same as that worn by the man who ran across the street. Finally, Scanlan admitted that there was “confusion when all three of them were in front of the car.”

The third of the “four eye witnesses” was Albert Magilton. [9] He saw Faulkner pull over Billy Cook’s car, then someone started across the street. But Magilton then turned away and lost sight of what happened next until he heard gun shots. He subsequently identified Jamal as the man who ran across the street, but he did not see anyone shoot anyone else.

The fourth of the “four eye witnesses” was Robert Chobert. [10] Chobert was a cab driver who said he pulled up behind Faulkner’s police car to discharge a fare (but Scanlan testified that there was no car behind the police car [11]). He looked up when he heard a shot. Chobert has given several different versions of what he saw next. When the police first arrived, Chobert told a police captain that the shooter had run away. Here Chobert was not giving evidence, but attempting immediately to assist the police in apprehending the shooter. Later he told police at the scene that he saw a heavy-set man, 200-225 pounds, about six feet tall (much larger than Jamal) standing over Faulkner and shooting down at him. Still later, at the police headquarters, he changed his assertion to say that the shooter and another man had run 30 or 35 steps East on Locust toward the corner (whereas Jamal was slumped on the curb near Faulkner). [12] However, when shown Jamal, Chobert identified him as the shooter. And at the trial, he changed his testimony yet again to say that the shooter had run only 10 feet, saying that he must have been mistaken the night of the shooting. Chobert also testified that the shooting took place between different cars than the ones identified by other witnesses.

It turned out that, as was the case with Cynthia White, Chobert had some particular reasons to change his testimony. First, he was free on five years probation for a charge of arson for hire. [13] Second, he was driving a cab on a suspended drivers license, and was allowed to continue to do so by police after the incident. [14] Both of these facts were unknown to the jury which had to assess his credibility as a witness.

Amazingly, KGO summarized the testimony of these four witnesses as: “In fact, the record shows four eye-witnesses saw Jamal shoot the officer and then sit down on the curb.” Actually only two of these four eye witnesses claimed to see Jamal shoot Faulkner, and these two were the least credible witnesses in the trial – each changed their stories repeatedly and received documented favors from the police. In the second segment of the attack, KGO also changed its story, reducing the number of eye witnesses who supposedly saw Jamal shoot Faulkner from four to three.

The Other Six Eye Witnesses

There were six other eye witnesses to the scene who have testified. Two who testified at the original trial were Dessie Hightower and Veronica Jones. Hightower testified at both the 1982 trial [15] and the 1995 hearing for a new trial. [16] He looked just after hearing shots and saw a Black male with dreadlocks running from the scene going East on Locust Street. He also saw arriving officers beat Jamal. He was the only witness given a lie detector test by the police in 1981, even though he had no criminal record (White, Chobert, and Magilton all had significant criminal records but were not given lie detector tests). He was told by police at that time that he had passed the test. In 1995, police testified that he had failed the test. Did the prosecution withhold this information at the original trial because Hightower passed the test? The defense had retained a polygraph expert in 1995 to examine the test results, but Judge Sabo refused to let the defense examine this evidence. Hightower is also the only eye witness at the original trial who has never changed his story.

Veronica Jones [17] saw two men fleeing the scene after the shots were fired. Her testimony is discussed in another section below.

Four more witnesses who testified in 1995 were William Singletary, Deborah Kordansky, William Harmon, and Robert Harkins. Veronica Jones testified again in 1996.

Singletary [18] testified that he saw a Black male in dreadlocks emerge from Billy Cook’s VW, shoot Officer Faulkner, then flee the scene. He also saw Faulkner shoot Jamal. And he saw arriving officers beat Jamal, assuming that he was the shooter. Singletary spoke to officers arriving at the scene and went with them to make a formal statement. According to Singletary’s testimony, when he wrote a truthful statement of what he had seen, police tore it up and would not let him leave until he signed a statement which they dictated. This statement did not disclose that Jamal was innocent. What Singletary actually saw was not revealed to the defense or to the jury at the 1982 trial.

Kordansky [19] also saw someone running down Locust Street after hearing the shots. She volunteered this information to police who took her statement. She did not testify at the 1981 trial because the police and prosecution would not reveal her address to the defense.

Harmon [20] was called to testify, over objections by the defense, by the Court (Judge Sabo). Harmon was in a state prison and volunteered that he had information about the case. Harmon testified that Faulkner was shot by two different men. One man shot Faulkner in the back, and Faulkner turned and shot Jamal. He then saw the first shooter run East on Locust Street. Then, according the Harmon, a second shooter got out of a car, shot Faulkner, got back in his car and fled.

Harkins [21] was an eye-witness whose statement to the police was on record. He described the shooter as taller and heavier than Faulkner (Jamal was shorter and lighter). When sought out by an investigator for the defense, he said that he had witnessed the shootings and was shown an array of photographs by the police from which he should identify the perpetrator. The existence of this “photo line-up” had never been disclosed to the defense. Presumably if Harkins had identified Jamal he would have been called as a prosecution witness in the original trial (he was not).

Harkins told the investigator that he had been told by the police not to talk to anyone from the defense, and broke off the interview. When called to testify at the 1995 hearing, [22] he repudiated his story about being asked to identify photographs and said instead that the man who shot Faulkner went over and sat on the curb.

Perhaps the most amazing piece of evidence that was withheld by the prosecution at the trial is that the slain police officer was found with the driver’s license of a third party (not Jamal or his brother) in his possession. [23]

Obviously there have been quite a variety of witnesses, giving numerous, differing, and frequently changing accounts of what happened that night – not the cut-and-dried “four eye witnesses saw him do it” presented by KGO.

The Ballistics Evidence

KGO asserts that: “In fact, there was extensive ballistics testimony, and though the bullets were mangled, tests showed them to be .38 caliber, with markings consistent with Jamal’s gun.” A prosecution expert did indeed testify that the mangled bullet was “consistent” with Jamal’s gun, if you are willing to fudge a few hundredths of an inch. [24] Of course, this also made it “consistent” with several hundred thousand other .38 and .40 caliber guns in the Philadelphia area. The fact is that prosecution witnesses were never able to establish that the bullets that killed Faulkner came from Jamal’s gun.

Jamal’s lack of funds to retain ballistics and medical experts meant that the following key points were not adequately brought out in the trial: First, police failed to perform the most basic tests on the night of the two shootings. They did not test Jamal’s hand for nitrate residues to prove that he had recently fired a gun, and they did not test Jamal’s gun to determine if it had recently been fired. The police failure to conduct these basic and routine tests has led to speculation that they were deliberately omitted because they would have shown that Jamal had not fired a gun.

Second, the jury that sentenced Jamal to death never saw the medical examiner’s report that described the bullet taken from Faulkner’s body as being .44 caliber. [25] Third, the first shot that hit Faulkner was not fired at close range as claimed by the prosecution. And fourth, the prosecution scenario, that Jamal was shot by Faulkner as he fell to the ground, was physically impossible. Faulkner’s bullet that struck Jamal entered his chest from above and traveled down through his body. For the bullet to follow that path, Jamal would have to have been bending over, or lying on the ground, when he was shot by Faulkner.

Finally we should add that no expert for the defense has ever been able to examine the bullet fragments in question. Since there was conflicting evidence concerning the caliber of the bullet fragments taken from Faulkner’s body, it would seem a rather simple matter for the police to produce the fragments for them to be examined by independent experts. But the police seem to have lost one of them. KGO might have considered doing some investigative reporting by asking the Philadelphia police department how key evidence in a murder of a police officer can just disappear.

The Competence of the Defense Counsel

According to KGO, Jamal’s court appointed attorney Anthony Jackson was an expert in the field. “The trial attorney had 20 capital cases under his belt in 1982 and came highly recommended.” Jackson was actually practicing civil law at the time he was appointed to Jamal’s case. He had not been a member of the bar long enough to have handled 20 capital cases (death penalty cases that actually went to the penalty phase). When asked on the stand to identify these cases, he could recall only one capital case and couldn’t remember the name of that one. [26]

Jackson had neither an office nor a secretary at the time he was appointed by the court to take Jamal’s case. He told Judge Sabo that he did not have enough time to prepare for the trial, and he asked repeatedly to be removed from the case. Three weeks before the trial he asked to have a second counsel appointed because he could not prepare for the trial in the time remaining. Jackson put the defense witnesses on the stand cold, without talking to them in advance. And Jackson, by his own admission, made no preparations nor did he call any witnesses in mitigation for the penalty phase of the trial, at which Jamal was given the death sentence. Jackson was subsequently suspended from the practice of law for unrelated reasons.

All of these facts could have been ascertained by KGO by examining the transcripts. Failing that, KGO could have at least asked Hugh Burns to identify the 20 capital cases Jackson is supposed to have conducted.

Disruption of the Trial by Jamal

According to KGO, “The ‘82 trial was chaotic. Jamal asked to defend himself, then challenged the legitimacy of the court. Though he helped to pick a jury that included two Blacks, frequent outbursts caused the judge to remove him as counsel. The outbursts continued. Jamal was removed from the courtroom on 13 different occasions.” And KGO used an interview with Philadelphia reporter Marc Kaufman who asserted that Jamal’s strategy was to try to disrupt the trial.

Here KGO has carefully blended fact with fiction to present a totally false picture of how the trial unfolded. First, Jamal was in no way disruptive before Judge Sabo removed him from acting as his own attorney. How do we know this? By reading Marc Kaufman’s own articles published in the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time. For example, Kaufman quotes Attorney Jackson (of whom KGO thinks highly) on Jamal’s performance in questioning prospective jurors: “Legally, he’s done a more than adequate job, and there’s no good reason to stop him.” Kaufman goes on to add his own description: “Abu-Jamal’s demeanor during the selection process has been subdued.” [27] (This information was available to KGO on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s web site, had they cared to check the facts.)

In reality Jamal was removed from acting as his own lawyer not because he was being disruptive, but because he was doing a good job. In particular, the prosecutor was appalled that jurors were getting to see that Jamal was a quiet, intelligent and articulate man. The prosecution wanted jurors to see him as a dangerous Black terrorist. It was the prosecutor who asked Judge Sabo to remove Jamal from acting as his own attorney, which Sabo readily did. Most of the subsequent disruption came from Jamal attempting to cross examine witnesses and continue acting as his own attorney.

KGO states that Jamal participated in picking his own jury that included two Blacks. This is simply not true. In point of fact, Jamal participated in picking only one juror before he was removed as pro se counsel, and that juror was subsequently removed from the jury by Judge Sabo in chambers without Jamal even being present. [28] Thus Jamal did not participate in picking any of the twelve jurors who sentenced him to death – once again KGO simply failed to check the facts.

The other issue that led to disruption of the trial procedures was Jamal’s demand that he be allowed to have MOVE founder John Africa sit at the defense table with him as an advisor. It is quite common for attorneys to have investigators, law clerks, and experts with them at the defense table to assist in different aspects of trial work. John Africa was also no novice at dealing with courts. The previous year, acting as his own attorney, he successfully won an acquittal in federal court on an array of charges. [29]

In short, Jamal refused to “play by the rules” only after he was denied the basic rights to defend himself and to have someone in his corner whom he trusted as an advisor. As a result, Jamal was frequently ejected from the courtroom, and missed much of the trial that sentenced him to death. No provisions were made to keep him informed of what was going on in the courtroom, such as a closed circuit TV monitor. Had such a principled protest been exhibited by a defendant in a country such as Iraq, it is quite likely that KGO would have hailed such behavior as “heroic resistance to injustice.”

The Defendant’s Refusal to Testify

KGO asserts that: “In 16 years, neither Jamal nor his brother have ever offered another version of what happened.”

Given the extreme bias of the court, his removal as pro se counsel, and his removal from the courtroom, Jamal wisely elected not to take the stand at his original trial. He has repeatedly demanded a new and impartial trial. But, and with good reason, he has refused to give the prosecution a preview of his testimony. Except for the immediate circumstances around his being shot by Faulkner and Faulkner being shot, Jamal has described in great detail what happened to him that evening: How he was beaten by police arriving at the scene, how his transport to the hospital was delayed, and how he was treated by police at the hospital. [30]

The situation with Jamal’s brother, Billy Cook, is somewhat different. We suspect that very few people have ever heard of an incident in which two Black men are involved in a physical altercation with a white police officer in which the white police officer is killed, and then the one Black man whom witnesses said struck the officer, is ultimately released. Yet that is what happened in this case.

Billy Cook was charged with a single misdemeanor and given a suspended sentence. His wooden street newsstand was then burned down. Billy took the hint, and got lost. He was not subpoenaed by the prosecution at the trial. He was the closest witness to the events, yet the prosecution didn’t want to hear from him. It was Jamal whom police wanted to get.

Billy was asked to testify in a hearing on Jamal’s motion for a new trial, and he agreed. However, the prosecution announced that there was an old outstanding misdemeanor warrant for Billy, and if he showed up to testify he would be arrested. [31]

This was no idle threat, because when Veronica Jones came forward to testify in Jamal’s defense in 1996, she was arrested as soon as she stepped off the witness stand. Some people have called this conduct Pennsylvania’s “witness persecution program.” Given the threat of arrest, Billy did not show up in court. Billy was in fear of his life, feeling that if he were put in jail he would not come out again alive. Subsequently police have not attempted to arrest him. It seems that his only danger of arrest comes if he testifies to what happened the night Jamal and Faulkner were shot.

As to the content of the testimony he would have given, attorney Rachel Wolkenstein read into the record her affidavit of what Billy Cook had told her and had planned to say in court. [32] So it is simply not true that Billy Cook has refused to tell his story.

The Phony Confession Story

According to KGO: “In fact, a hospital security guard reported hearing Jamal boast of shooting the officer outside the emergency room the next day. Two police officers later claimed to have heard the same confession.” Here we must confess a little glee over KGO taking up the phony confession story – a canard that other pro-prosecution media now prudently avoid.

If Jamal had made a loud public confession the night of the shootings, as the prosecution was later to claim, it would have been front page news the next morning. Nothing is more damning in a murder case than a public confession by the suspect. Given that the victim in this case was a police officer, and the police have both the training to recognize the importance of a confession as well as the motive to take full advantage of it, why is it then that the widely touted confession did not surface until two months after the night of the shootings?

The sequence of events is very instructive. First, Jamal has always maintained that he was innocent and was a victim in the situation. Thus, when he regained enough strength, Jamal filed police brutality charges against the arresting officers. This naturally outraged the prosecution, and it was soon after Jamal filed his charges that police officers began to “remember” that Jamal had confessed that first night.

We now know from the 1995 testimony of Officer Wakshul that after Jamal filed his charges, Assistant District Attorney Joseph McGill convened a meeting of police officers involved in the case. At this meeting McGill raised the question of whether Jamal might have made a confession (hint, hint!). He then asked any officers who might have heard a confession to raise their hands. (This meeting had never before been disclosed to the defense.)

The problem with the newly remembered confession was that none of the officers had recorded any such confession in their written reports. Officer Wakshul had even reported that “the Negro male made no statements.” [33]

The only other “evidence” of a confession is a claim (also two months after the fact) by hospital guard Priscilla Durham that she heard the confession and told it the next day to her supervisor who took handwritten notes. But the hand-written notes have never been produced. In addition, Durham also failed to mention the confession when she was interviewed by the police. [34]

Thus we are asked to believe that an experienced trial reporter like Jamal (who certainly knew his Miranda rights) foolishly made a public confession, then none of the many police officers present (including Faulkner’s partner) thought it significant enough to mention until two months later when prodded by the D.A., and we are to ignore the fact that the attending physician has also stated that Jamal made no statements. [35]

Lack of Funds for a Competent Defense

When interviewed actor Mike Farrell correctly pointed out that Jamal didn’t have the money required to mount a competent defense, KGO replied: “Actually, $14,000 of public money was spent on the defense, including customary fees for an investigator and expert witnesses. In addition, a private group of supporters also contributed money.”

Jamal did indeed receive approximately $14,000 in public money. But this went overwhelmingly to pay for his court appointed attorney (whom Jamal did not want). By aggregating the court ordered payments, KGO hides the fact that the amounts allocated for expert witnesses (whom Jamal did want) were miniscule.

Los Angeles County spends $60,000 for the defense in each capital case, and it is not uncommon in other jurisdictions for the state to appropriate as much as $500,000 for the defense in a death penalty case. A special commission in New York state suggested a minimum of $600,000 for the defense in each capital case. [36]

Jamal did have some services by an investigator, who by his own admission worked four hours for every one that he was paid. But the investigator quit before the trial for lack of payment, thus Jamal did not have the services of an investigator during the trial. Jamal also could not afford the standard fees for the ballistics expert or medical expert who would have been crucial for his defense. For example, he could not find a forensic pathologist who would take the case for the $150 that was appropriated by the court for this purpose.

The Credibility of Leonard Weinglass

A secondary theme of the KGO attack was that the head of Jamal’s current legal team, Leonard Weinglass, is the source of the allegedly false information that Jamal’s supporters are propagating. The attack accuses Weinglass of playing to the public gallery, rather than making his points in the court room where the rules of evidence apply.

A recording is played in which Weinglass tells the crowd outside the courthouse in Philadelphia that there is new evidence and proof in the case. Then KGO comments: “The proof according to Weinglass consists of new witnesses who either contradict what they told police sixteen years ago, or say they saw something that night but never told anyone until now.”

So let’s look at one such witness: Veronica Jones. Jones testified as a defense witness at the original trial. Interviewed by police after the shootings, she maintained that after she heard the shots she saw two men running from the scene. She signed a written statement of what she had seen. At the trial, Veronica testified that the police had offered her a deal if she would testify that Mumia was the shooter (she had several criminal charges pending at the time), and that a similar deal had been offered to Cynthia White. [37] But she did repudiate her signed statement [38] that she had seen two men jogging away from the scene. It was very important to the prosecution to deny that there were other potential perpetrators at the scene who successfully fled.

In 1996, during Jamal’s legal effort to win a new trial, Jones came forward and told Jamal’s legal team that she had lied at the 1982 trial and she had indeed seen two men flee the scene. She then testified [39] that police officers had threatened her with a long jail term and the legal removal of her children from her custody if she did not support the prosecution. When she brought her full story into the courtroom in 1996, she was threatened with perjury charges by Judge Sabo, and then arrested as soon as she stepped off the witness stand as mentioned above.

The interesting point here is that Veronica did not contradict what she had told police years before, as KGO alleges. She reaffirmed it. The information given by Weinglass was correct.

The prestigious journal The American Lawyer has appraised the conduct of Weinglass in this case as follows: “. . . Judge Sabo flaunted his bias, oozing partiality toward the prosecution and crudely seeking to bully Weinglass, whose courtroom conduct was as correct as Sabo’s was crass.” [40]

According to KGO, in the law courts, there are rules of evidence, but in the court of public opinion anything goes. Our experience in this case has been just the opposite. Because of the unremitting hostility of the trial judge, it has been impossible to examine the evidence in the appointed court of law. Motions for discovery are routinely denied. Questions embarrassing to the prosecution are overruled by the court. And in the 1995 hearing on the motion for a new trial, Judge Sabo quashed the subpoenas for 29 defense witnesses and would not allow them to testify. [41]

The result was a legal procedure in which anything the prosecution wants goes, but anything the defense wants doesn’t go. Ironically, it has been easier to expose false testimony in the court of public opinion, as the following example shows.

The Comments of the Widow

The KGO attack includes an interview with Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Officer Faulkner. Mrs. Faulkner accuses the supporters of Jamal of acting like Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels, in repeatedly telling lies in the hope of their eventual acceptance as truth.

It would have been helpful if KGO had asked Mrs. Faulkner about a claim she makes that when a ballistics expert held up her dead husband’s shirt in court to display the bullet holes, Jamal turned around and smiled at her. [42] This is a real crowd stopper. It seems to capture the very essence of the prosecution’s claim that Jamal was a cold-blooded killer.

The only problem is, it isn’t true. A simple examination of the transcript shows that on the day the ballistics expert presented his testimony, Jamal was absent from the courtroom. [43] Also, the first time we heard her make this claim was in 1995, 13 years after the event in question. In the court of law, the prosecution has had Judge Sabo to protect them. But in the court of public opinion, Mrs. Faulkner has no such protection. Her erroneous statements were quickly exposed.

The Claim that Jamal Received a Peabody Award

The KGO concluded its attack on Jamal with the following issue: “And one more claim about Mumia Abu-Jamal that we would like to get straight. On the cover of his book, Live from Death Row, he is said to have won the Peabody Award, one of the most prestigious honors in broadcast journalism. Well, the University of Georgia, which presents that award, has no such record.”

Even a broken clock is right twice a day. And so KGO finally got one fact right. Jamal indeed was never the recipient of the Peabody Award. He was the recipient of a 1980 Major Armstrong Award (1st place, News) along with other staffers of WUHY-FM’s “91 Report.” The Armstrong Awards are presented by the Armstrong Memorial Research Foundation at Columbia University.

However the claim that Jamal had received a Peabody has never been made by either Jamal or his legal team. It does not appear on the cover of any printings of the original hard bound edition published by Addison-Wesley, nor on any of the foreign translations of his book. It appears only on the cover of the first paperback edition published by Avon Books. We do not know how Avon obtained this erroneous information, and it’s falsity was immediately called to Avon’s attention by Jamal’s literary agent.

It does not seem to us that Avon’s error in mistakenly attributing a Peabody award to Jamal is a particularly strong argument for Jamal’s execution. Indeed if editorial errors were capital crimes, KGO’s editors, writers and fact checkers would be in mortal peril.

In Conclusion

We wish that we could say that KGO’s collection of errors was the result of simple ignorance or sheer incompetence. But this was not the case. We have a tape recording of KGO’s full interview with Leonard Weinglass in which he presented to KGO the correct record on many of the issues. At an absolute minimum, we can say that KGO was fully aware before broadcast that much of the material they were presenting as “fact” was contested by knowledgeable parties to the case. [44] In light of this, their subsequent failure to make even the most basic effort to check the facts seems to us to connote willful intent to mislead the public. This in turn calls into question whether KGO is abusing its FCC license to broadcast in the public interest.

There is something frightening in this KGO episode, and that is that public opinion in support of executions can be whipped up by such blatantly erroneous accounts. We live in a society in which crime rates are falling every year, and capital punishment has been proven to be no deterrent. Yet there remains a politically driven campaign to promote, extend, and speed up executions, and to gut the legal rights of defendants. It remains the case that an execution in error is an irreversible mistake.

Perhaps the most honest statement in the whole series was made when KGO declared that “the case plays right into some people’s fears that the government should not be trusted.” We think this gets at the heart of KGO’s real concern. Last year, two men in Illinois were freed from death row, and three prosecutors and four sheriff’s deputies were indicted for framing them. Yet it took years of appeals, three trials, and a lot of public outcry to bring this injustice to light. KGO disparages such public debate over controversial death penalty cases, and the questioning of government actions. Yet in case after case, it has been public response to injustice that has resulted in justice being done.

_______________

Notes:

1 Persons interviewed by KGO-TV and used in this manner were attorney Leonard Weinglass, actor Mike Farrell, and activist Jeff Mackler. KGO also used interviews with Philadelphia Assistant D.A. Hugh Burns, Maureen Faulkner (widow of the slain police officer), and Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Marc Kaufman. San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown declined to be interviewed for the series. There may have been other persons interviewed but not used.

2 Cynthia White’s testimony began on June 21, 1982, at page 4.79 of the transcript.

3 For example, when Cynthia White was arrested in 1987 (five years after the trial) on serious felony charges, Philadelphia homicide detective Douglas Culbreth appeared in court and asked that Cynthia White be released on her own signature (without posting money) because she was “a Commonwealth witness in a very high profile case.” Judge Charles J. Margiotti agreed to this request and released White. White subsequently jumped bail and did not show up for her court date. See testimony of Det. Douglas Culbreth on June 30, 1997, pp. 99-100.

4 Philadelphia police records recorded Cynthia White’s finger print code as: PM 11 12 CO 16 DO 08 13 PI 18 (from Commonwealth Exhibit 2). The fingerprint code for Cynthia Drake who died in New Jersey in 1992 as PM 13 12 17 16 PO 18 13 CI 20 (from Commonwealth Exhibit 8). That is, six out of ten fingers were different.

5 Mark Scanlan’s testimony began on June 25, 1982, at page 8.4 of the transcript.

6 See 1982 trial transcript, June 25, 1982, page 8.46.

7 See Scanlan’s statement to police on page 235 of Race for Justice, by Leonard Weinglass (Common Courage Press: 1995).

8 This has led one close observer of the trial to speculate that Faulkner actually shot Jamal first. See “Guilty And Framed” by Stuart Taylor, Jr., The American Lawyer, December 1995.

9 Albert Magilton’s testimony began on June 25, 1982, at page 8.75 of the transcript.

10 Robert Chobert’s testimony began on June 19, 1982, at page 209 of the transcript.

11 See 1982 trial transcript, page 8.20.

12 See Chobert’s statement to police on 230 of Race for Justice, by Leonard Weinglass (Common Courage Press: 1995).

13 From a sidebar conference (outside the hearing of the jury), beginning on page 220:

Prosecutor McGill: “What were you found guilty of? The Judge wants to know what you were found guilty of.”
Chobert: “I threw a bomb into a school.”
Judge Sabo: “You threw a bomb into a school?”
Chobert: “Yes.”
Judge Sabo: “What kind of a bomb?”
Chobert: “A Molotov.”
Judge Sabo: “A Molotov cocktail?”
Chobert: “Yes.”
. . .
Judge Sabo: “Did you go to that school?”
Chobert: “Yes.”
Judge Sabo: “And that’s why you threw it in there?”
Chobert: “No, that ain’t why. I got paid for doing it.”

14 See trial transcript for August 15, 1995, pp. 3-15.

15 Dessie Hightower’s testimony began on June 28, 1982, at page 28.121 of the transcript. Also see his statement to the police on page 236 of Race for Justice, by Leonard Weinglass (Common Courage Press: 1995).

16 Dessie Hightower’s testimony began on August 3, 1995, at page 16 of the transcript.

17 Veronica Jones’ testimony began on June 29, 1982, at page 94 of the transcript.

18 William Singletary’s testimony began on August 11, 1995, at page 204 of the transcript.

19 Deborah Kordansky’s statement to police can be found on page 233 of Race for Justice, by Leonard Weinglass (Common Courage Press: 1995).

20 William Harmon’s testimony began on August 10, 1995, on page 45 of the transcript.

21 Robert Harkins’ statement to police can be found on page 240 of Race for Justice, by Leonard Weinglass (Common Courage Press: 1995).

22 Robert Harkins’ testimony began on August 2, 1995, at page 193 of the transcript.

23 See transcript for August 11, 1995, pp. 130-131. The drivers license or license application was in the name of Arnold Howard, who was subsequently arrested and tested to see if he had fired a gun. Howard told police that he had loaned the document to a Kenneth Freeman, who was a friend of Billy Cook. Freeman is now deceased.

24 The base of bullet measured 10 mm (which is between .39 and .40 caliber), according to Medical Examiner Paul Hoyer, see transcript for June 25, 1982, page 39.

25 A copy of the Medical Examiners findings, that lists the bullet as .44 caliber, can be found on page 241 of Race for Justice, by Leonard Weinglass (Common Courage Press: 1995).

26 See transcript for July 31, 1995, pp. 77-78.

27 See “Lesser Role Sought for Abu-Jamal,” by Marc Kaufman, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 9, 1982.

28 See transcript for June 18, 1982, pp. 35-43.

29 See “Movers Free in Bomb Plot,” by Jim Smith and Kitty Caparella, Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 1981.

30 For example, see “A Christmas Cage,” by Mumia Abu-Jamal, reprinted in the Mumia Abu-Jamal Resource Book, pp. 4-5, published by Refuse & Resist!

31 See transcript for September 11 and 12, 1996, pp. 10-12, 17.

32 See transcript for September 11, 1996, page 41. Billy Cook would have testified that he was present at the shootings, that another Black male was present in the car with him, and that a third party (neither he nor Jamal) shot Faulkner.

33 See transcript for August 1, 1995, pp. 38, 42. See also the statement by Officer Garry Bell made on December 16, 1981, which makes no mention of the “confession.” Bell’s statement can be found on page 239 of Race for Justice, by Leonard Weinglass (Common Courage Press: 1995).

34 See transcript for June 24, 1982, page 51

35 For a devastating critique of the phony confession story by an author who believes that Jamal shot Faulkner, see “Guilty And Framed” by Stuart Taylor, Jr., The American Lawyer, December 1995.

36 See New York Times, March 13, 1996, “Pataki Aide Assails High Fees to Defend Poor in Death Cases.”

37 See trial transcript for June 29, 1982, p. 135 et seq.

38 Veronica Jones’ statement to police can be found on page 237 of Race for Justice, by Leonard Weinglass (Common Courage Press: 1995). But at the trial she repudiated this statement and said: “I didn’t see anyone do nothing. No one moved” (page 99 et seq.). Attorney Jackson also admits at this point that he had never spoken to Veronica Jones before putting her on the stand (page 100).

39 See transcript for October 1, 1996, p. 20.

40 See “Guilty And Framed” by Stuart Taylor, Jr., The American Lawyer, December 1995.

41 For a list of the witnesses denied, see Sabo’s decision: 30 Phila. A; 1995 Phila. Cty. Rptr. LEXIS 38, *31-*33.

42 See article by Megan Rosenfeld on page C1 of the Washington Post, May 18, 1995.

43 See trial transcript for June 26, 1982, p. 8 and pp. 13-36.

44 For example, from the interview with Weinglass KGO knew that the defense has never been allowed to example the bullet fragments taken from Officer Faulkner, that the medical examiner had written in his report that the bullet was .44 caliber and the jury never heard this, that the bullet was never matched to Jamal’s gun, that the slain officer had in his hand the drivers license of a third party (not Jamal or his brother) and this information was withheld from the defense at the original trial, that Jamal has indeed stated that he is innocent, that the trial court was informed at the outset that the investigator had quit because he was not being paid and there were no funds for defense experts, and that the defense attorney interviewed none of the defense witnesses before putting them on the stand.
(June 18, 1998)
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