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The inmate’s leftist politics overrode the evidence. Numerous eyewitnesses identified Mumia as the killer. He was found at the scene with a return round from Faulkner’s service weapon in his chest and a gun registered in his name by his side. The five spent shell casings in his gun were of the same unique variant as the “Plus P” bullets that killed the officer. Witnesses reported a hospital boast: “I shot the mother—er and I hope the mother—er dies.” In 1999, prison outreach activist Phillip Bloch recounted a 1991 conversation in which Abu-Jamal had acknowledged killing Faulkner. On the other hand, the commentator/killer compared George W. Bush to Hitler and eulogized Howard Zinn as a “brilliant” “master historian.” This surely made him innocent, or at least entitled him to a “get out of jail free” card. Right?
Abu-Jamal’s fortunes improved in the 1990s. Pacifica Radio aired Abu-Jamal’s commentaries after National Public Radio rethought an earlier decision to do so. Evergreen State College and Antioch College, among others, hosted the convicted murderer as a commencement speaker via audiotape. A Law & Order episode namedropped Abu-Jamal, with a character noting that the “Philadelphia journalist” was “framed for murder.” Rage Against the Machine played an infamous benefit concert for him. The subject of numerous cable documentaries, and the author of books, spoken-word CDs, and a periodic Internet column, Mumia became a cottage, nay, a prison-cell industry.
Never outside of the ranks of hit men had murder been so beneficial to one’s career. But then a federal judge had to ruin it by vacating Abu-Jamal’s death sentence in 2001. Although the rallying cry had been “Free Mumia,” the urgency of his followers stemmed from the threat that the state would “Fry Mumia.” But Pennsylvania, which employed lethal injection anyhow, had executed just three people in the last thirty-five years. Wednesday’s announcement by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams that he would forgo pursuing a reinstatement of the death sentence merely affirmed what all but the blindly passionate on both sides had already foreseen: Pennsylvania would never execute its most famous inmate.
A murderer facing life behind bars makes for a less compelling cause célèbre than one facing capital punishment. The throngs that had once shouted “Free Mumia” in Paris, Philadelphia, and San Francisco have long since reoriented their shouts toward other injustices.
The Mumiacs have moved on. Mumia remains in the same place.
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