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Angela Davis visits Abu-Jamal, joins his death sentence fight

Wednesday, October 13, 1999

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

For a change, Angela Davis was having trouble getting into jail.

The longtime leftist, the only member of her college faculty to have made the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, was late for yesterday's news conference because of the elaborate protocol to visiting Mumia Abu-Jamal on Death Row.

"You have to sign the papers, you have to go through the metal detector, if you can't get through the metal detector you have to take off your shoes," Davis said.

Pennsylvania's Death Row inmates are housed at the state prison in Greene County, and visits involve at least three waiting rooms, including what Davis described as "the waiting room to get into the next waiting room."

The visit, a topic of Davis' news conference yesterday in Oakland, was with the state's most famous Death Row resident -- a former journalist convicted of the 1981 shooting death of a Philadelphia policeman and now a cause celebre in the United States and Europe. One news conference attendee, Pittsburgh native Kenny Henderson, brought along a tape of a "Free Mumia" concert in Berlin, as well as German language posters calling for his freedom.

Abu-Jamal's case has become a dividing line between left and right in the United States, each side arguing the arcane details of evidence they believe proves their case. Davis, who spent 16 months in prison in the early 1970s before she was acquitted of murder and conspiracy charges in connection with a shootout at the Marin County (Calif.) Courthouse, said she believes in Abu-Jamal's innocence, but even that was somewhat beside the point.

"Belief in his guilt or innocence does not have to determine involvement in the campaign to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal," Davis said.

"I don't know what world she's living in," retorted Philadelphia lawyer Michael Smerconish, who has organized "Justice for Daniel Faulkner," a group with a $100,000 budget and elaborate information program to disseminate evidence of Abu-Jamal's guilt and memorialize the police officer he was convicted of killing.

"It seems like it's another case of someone who wants to overlook the particular facts in this case and just use Jamal as a poster child for another anti-death-penalty crusade," Smerconish said.

Davis, a philosophy professor at the University of California Santa Cruz campus, said she has reviewed summaries of Abu-Jamal's case.

Prosecutors have pointed to eyewitnesses they say place Abu-Jamal at the scene of the shooting and that a gun, registered to Abu-Jamal was found near Faulkner's body with five empty shell casings. Abu-Jamal was found a few feet away from Faulkner, with a gunshot wound from Faulkner's gun.

Abu-Jamal's supporters point to eyewitnesses they say have come forward with stories of another assailant at the shooting scene, and point to an initial notation by a medical examiner that Faulkner was shot with a .44 caliber gun while Abu-Jamal's revolver was a .38 caliber.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear a new appeal by Abu-Jamal and Gov. Ridge has indicated he will sign a death warrant within the next 30 days.

The case has pitted Philadelphia police and Faulkner's widow in a bitter public dispute with Abu-Jamal's supporters. Davis yesterday said she would tell Maureen Faulkner, the policeman's widow, that she is sorry for her loss.

"It's very sad that she finds herself in that predicament," Davis said. "I would offer her my deepest condolences. But I would also say that her feelings don't have anything to do with the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The emphasis on so-called victims' rights, or the rights of perceived victims at this time is quite scary and quite undemocratic. It seems to me that if we believe in fairness and we believe in democracy, then we should at least be in favor of a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal."

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