Michael Smerconish: In the infamous French suburb of Bobigny, the street is paved with guilt

Bobigny Mayor Catherine Peyge (center) opens Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal, as Mumia's son Jamal (right) looks on.
Bobigny Mayor Catherine Peyge (center) opens Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal, as Mumia's son Jamal (right) looks on. (LINN WASHINGTON / FOR THE DAILY NEWS)
Posted: October 17, 2012

ALL THESE YEARS later, and something is still getting lost in translation.

Three decades after Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered Danny Faulkner, and nearly a year since the case finally - really - ended in the courts, comes another street renaming in the suburbs of Paris.

It's always been the case that the further you get from Philadelphia, the more support grows for Abu-Jamal. Close to where the murder took place, people know the facts and have never bought into the bunk.

I remember interviewing Joe McGill, Abu-Jamal's prosecutor, while researching the book I wrote with Maureen Faulkner, Murdered by Mumia.

McGill has often impressed upon me that this was far from the most complicated case he'd tried in his illustrious career in District Attorney Ed Rendell's office. The killer's motive was revealed through his radical, anti-law-enforcement associations and writings. Multiple eyewitnesses watched the sequence of events in which Abu-Jamal, a taxi driver, ran to the side of his brother, who'd been pulled over in the middle of the night by a young cop.

Those eyewitnesses saw Abu-Jamal shoot the police officer in cold blood. His murder weapon was recovered at the scene. The man who sold it to him testified at the trial. The ballistics matched. And when, in a cruel twist of fate, the murderer was taken to the same hospital ER where doctors attempted to revive his victim, Abu-Jamal was heard to say, "I shot the motherf---er and I hope the motherf---r dies."

Of course, those straightforward facts have been spun like fondue for willing audiences like those in Bobigny, France. Kernels of truth blended with pure unadulterated fiction have fed Abu-Jamal's defense apparatus and a cottage industry of enablers for a time period that stretches longer than Officer Faulkner was on earth.

Just ask Hugh Burns, the assistant D.A. who had to defend against Area 51-style conspiracy theories, how ridiculous it all became. Chances are he'll tell you about Arnold Beverly, the guy who surfaced in the late-1990s saying that he knew Abu-Jamal was innocent. Why? Because he himself was hired to kill Faulkner!

Even Abu-Jamal's defense team had a tough time advancing that concoction. But once Abu-Jamal fired those reluctant lawyers, he tried to raise the same defense in federal court.

Many times over the years people have wondered what has me absolutely certain that Abu-Jamal deserved to be on death row. My favored response has been to discuss his brother, William Cooke, the man whose driving of a Volkswagen started the sequence that ended in the murder.

I've never understood how people could be comfortable lending their names and credibility to Abu-Jamal's defense, when Abu-Jamal himself never testified nor otherwise has offered an account of the evening, and his brother has remained silent since that night.

Ask yourself: If your brother were on death row for a crime you know he didn't commit because you saw what happened, for how long would you remain silent? Thirty years? I doubt it. Of course, William Cooke wasn't silent that night. When police came upon the murder scene, he was much more loquacious, saying: "I ain't got nothing to do with this."

Apparently, none of this matters in the country that coddled Ira Einhorn, who'd been convicted in absentia of murdering his former girlfriend, Holly Maddux.

It's important to remember what did and did not happen last December. The case ended when District Attorney Seth Williams, with the blessing of Maureen Faulkner, decided that it was futile to have another sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal.

Make no mistake, every attempt to overturn the jury's finding of Abu-Jamal's guilt failed. And no court ever ruled that Abu-Jamal's sentence was unconstitutional. Instead, as I wrote last year, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that the instruction to the jury in the penalty phase was constitutionally flawed insofar as the possibility existed that the jury could have concluded that any finding of mitigating circumstances needed to be unanimous, when unanimity was not a legal requirement.

Does that sound like legal horses--t?

Well, it was.

Twenty nine years after the murder, I tracked down the jury foreman from the 1982 trial, a former Bell of Pennsylvania lineman now living down south. He told me that there was never any confusion among the jurors who deliberated Abu-Jamal's fate.

In other words, the Third Circuit opinion rested on pure conjecture.

The court was never willing to let the Commonwealth execute the highest-profile death-row inmate in the world, and Maureen Faulkner faced that sad fact. Seth Williams, too, realized that a new sentencing hearing would have been an expensive exercise in futility. Had a jury in 2012 decided that Abu-Jamal deserved death for his 1981 murder, it would only have started the clock on a new and endless cycle of appeals.

And so Bobigny, France, heretofore noteworthy for the stain of a train station that served as a point of embarkation for 20,000 Jews headed to Nazi death camps, now wishes to further besmirch its crappy reputation.

I say let them. Mumia Abu-Jamal Street has a nice ring to it. Just like Butt Hole Road, in Conisbrough, South Yorkshire, U.K., or Psycho Path, in Traverse City, Mich., and Little Schmuck Road, in Evansville, Ind. The renaming makes as much sense as the intersection of Clinton and Fidelity in Houston, Texas.

Au revoir.


Contact Michael Smerconish via www.smerconish.com, or follow on Twitter @smerconish. Read his columns at www.philly.com/smerconish.

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