Talk about deadlines. Last month, Voyager Co. was racing to meet an Aug. 1 shipping date for the latest CD-ROM in its biographical series, First Person: Mumia Abu-Jamal — Live From Death Row. Meanwhile, Abu-Jamal’s lawyers were fighting a scheduled Aug. 17 execution of the former radio reporter.
Sentenced to die by lethal injection for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner, 25, Abu-Jamal has argued that he was punished at a flawed trial for his political beliefs (support for the Philadelphia-based radical group MOVE and his onetime membership in the Black Panther Party). Faulkner was shot after he’d stopped Abu-Jamal’s brother for a traffic violation; depending on which account one believes, Abu-Jamal was either the killer or an innocent bystander shot by Faulkner, who was later killed by an unidentified shooter. Abu-Jamal, 41, who was removed as his own attorney during jury selection and represented by a court-appointed lawyer, has been supported in his efforts by human rights organizations and such individuals as actors Mike Farrell and Ossie Davis. ”I don’t believe, having read as much of the trial transcripts and the evidence and the testimony as I have, that there was anything faintly resembling a fair trial in this case,” Farrell says. Not everyone, though, has been so sympathetic: Following public protest, National Public Radio last year canceled scheduled broadcasts of the inmate’s spoken essays about life on death row. Faulkner’s widow has spearheaded a letter-writing campaign against Addison-Wesley, which earlier this year published the book upon which the CD-ROM is based, Live From Death Row, a collection of Abu-Jamal’s writings.
The CD-ROM, which went into production about 10 days after Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge signed Abu-Jamal’s death warrant, includes the complete text of the book as well as additional commentaries by Abu-Jamal, audio clips of actor Giancarlo Esposito reading Abu-Jamal’s autobiographical essays, and statements of support from novelist E.L. Doctorow and filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, among others. Asked about the CD-ROM, Joseph J. McGill, the prosecutor in the case, says he appreciates the right of Abu-Jamal’s advocates to use ”whatever media they can” to advance his cause. The time the CD-ROM has, however, is running out.