U.S. News

Abu Jamal backers say new evidence merits retrial

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Supporters of a Pennsylvania man condemned to death for the 1981 murder of a policeman released photographs on Tuesday that they said prove he deserves a new trial.

Mumia Abu Jamal, a former Philadelphia radio journalist and taxi driver, has been on death row for 25 years for the killing of officer Daniel Faulkner, a crime he says he did not commit.

Abu Jamal and his backers say he was framed by a police force and a judiciary tainted by racism. Even before the latest development, they had sought a new trial on grounds including a contention that too many blacks were removed from the jury.

Abu Jamal writes on current affairs from his prison cell in western Pennsylvania and has become an international cause celebre for the anti-death penalty movement, attracting supporters who include South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The photographs depict aspects of the murder scene that his supporters say are inconsistent with evidence produced by prosecutors.

The pictures, by freelance photographer Pedro Polakoff, were published in the same week that Faulkner’s widow Maureen published a book describing the shooting and its aftermath, and five days before the 26th anniversary of the policeman’s death.

One photo shows another policeman holding two guns in his bare hand, contradicting that officer’s trial testimony that he had preserved ballistics evidence, said Hans Bennett, co-founder of Journalists for Mumia, a support group.

Another picture shows Faulkner’s hat on top of a parked car, contrasting with the official police photo of the crime scene in which the hat was on a sidewalk grating. The picture suggests the police were manipulating evidence to produce a more dramatic picture, Bennett told a news conference.

A third picture shows a blood-stained sidewalk where Faulkner was shot but lacks any sign of “divots” or marks in the concrete that would have occurred if the officer had been shot from above, as prosecutors contended, Bennett said.

“We are making the point that at a minimum, he needs a new trial,” Bennett said.

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Walsh