Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
Sunday, December 11, 2011

Imagine a democracy in which key players are committed to making sure that duly-enacted laws don’t work. These players slow things down. They hire confederates who also want to sabotage the system. Then they shrug and claim that, while they want to enforce the law, success is impossible and, besides, prohibitively expensive.

Maureen Faulkner has had to deal with forces opposed to the death penalty since her police officer husband, Daniel, was murdered on Dec. 9, 1981. Philadelphia police found Faulkner mortally wounded and Mumia Abu-Jamal with a bullet wound in his chest, his own handgun and five spent shell casings. Four eyewitnesses testified against Abu-Jamal. Yet famous people like Mike Farrell and Ed Asner lauded him as a “political prisoner.” Because Faulkner was white and Abu-Jamal was black, they branded the guilty verdict the fruit of racism – even though two jurors were African American.

You may have seen the photo of the officer’s widow hugging the police commissioner after Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that he would drop efforts to carry out the jury’s death sentence. You may have read that Williams did so with the blessing of Maureen Faulkner.

What you may not know is that Faulkner agreed with Williams because she lost faith in the criminal justice system. “The disgusting reality with the death penalty in Pennsylvania is that the fix is in before the hearings even begin,” Faulkner explained in a statement. Federal judges, she added, “are the fixers.”

In 2001, a federal judge upheld Abu-Jamal’s conviction but threw out the death sentence because the 1982 jury did not adhere to a 1997 interpretation of a 1988 appellate ruling. In 2008, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court told the Third Circuit to reconsider. Upon reconsideration, in April the Third Circuit stuck with its original outcome. Williams and Faulkner agreed that there was little point in pushing for a second death-penalty hearing.

In California, it’s the same story. In February 2006, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel stayed the execution of Michael Morales because the judge believed there was less than a 0.001 percent chance that the man convicted of bludgeoning, knifing, strangling, raping and killing 17-year-old Terri Winchell might feel pain under California’s three-drug lethal injection protocol.

In April 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kentucky’s three-drug protocol. In February, the Ninth Circuit court upheld Arizona’s lethal-injection process. Arizona resumed executions. Yet in California, there is only delay. A different federal judge wants a review of new procedures designed to make California’s lethal injection even more humane. The new timetable would delay California’s death penalty until at least September 2012. And then, who knows?

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