Michael Smerconish: Foreman of Mumia Abu-Jamal's jury breaks his silence
GEORGE EWALT once believed he held Mumia Abu-Jamal's life in his hands. But after 30 years, he can't understand why cop-killer Abu-Jamal's conviction and death sentence are the stuff of never-ending appeals.
GEORGE EWALT once believed he held Mumia Abu-Jamal's life in his hands.
But after 30 years, he can't understand why cop-killer Abu-Jamal's conviction and death sentence are the stuff of never-ending appeals.
Ewalt was the foreman of Abu-Jamal's jury. He hasn't spoken about his service since the 1982 trial, but he broke his silence in a conversation with me this week.
Back then, the former infantryman who served in Vietnam was working for Bell of Pennsylvania and living in Roxborough. He's 63 now, retired and living outside Pennsylvania. But from a distance, and for a period of years, he has watched with more than a passing interest what became of the verdict he and 11 other Philadelphians presented to Judge Albert Sabo at 5:15 p.m. on Friday, July 2, 1982.
He recalled reading a book that included the axiom, "The end of a society is when the evil cannot be punished, nor the good rewarded."
"That's the situation that sums it up for me right now," he told me. "This has been almost 30-some years and the whole system to me is being totally inept and manipulated."
That manipulation has benefited the man Ewalt believes carried out "an assassination, or execution."
When I told him that slain police Officer Daniel Faulkner's widow, Maureen, was back in court on Tuesday on what was the anniversary of her departure for her honeymoon with Daniel in Hawaii 31 years ago, he made it clear that his prayers are with her.
"I just feel sorry for her," he said. "It's been almost 30 years, and she's being dragged through this over and over and over again. And it's not encouraging for her or her family. And it's not encouraging for Officer Faulkner's family, the survivors or the police either, because it's just hung up in the air."
Ewalt is understandably disapproving of the celebrity status that Abu-Jamal has achieved while on death row and the worldwide notoriety, including the renaming of a street for him near Paris.
"To name a street in honor of a convicted felon is totally ludicrous. You usually would normally name a street or a statue to honor a fallen officer. Everything is backwards in this society."
And he means not just over there, but here, too.
"It's just unbelievable that his case has been permitted by the system to drag on for all these years with no resolution in it for the officer's family, and him, too."
I asked if it had been difficult for him to serve in the high-profile case.
"I went in and did my duty. I was called and I served," is all he would say.
Ewalt can't understand why the man whose fate he judged is so appealing to so many celebrities.
"I mean, the man is a convicted police-killer. It's as simple as that. And all this crap with the legal system, the technicalities keep coming up. It's like people changing their shoes and socks every day. I mean, what's next, you know? It's hard to even fathom that a situation like this would go on this long."
Despite the passage of many years, I wondered whether he had any recall of the evidence.
He was quick to cite, by name, the testimony of the prosecution's ballistics expert, Anthony Paul. Ewalt correctly recalled from Paul's testimony that Abu-Jamal had loaded the gun registered in his name with Special +P bullets. That type of ammo is distinct and high-impact, a round so devastating that police officers weren't allowed to use them.
"To me, I mean I know he didn't load the pistol running over to the police officer. He had to load it prior. But that extra punch of that ammunition was a factor with me," Ewalt said.
I asked whether he'd considered that the entire episode might have been a setup to shoot Officer Faulkner, a theory advanced in Tigre Hill's new movie, "The Barrel of a Gun."
Ewalt told me that had occurred to him on a number of occasions over the years, and that his suspicion was furthered by the refusal of Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, to testify.
He lost track of fellow jurors immediately after the case.
"As for myself, when the trial was over, that was it; I went on with my life."
It wasn't that simple for Maureen Faulkner - and Ewalt knows it.
"My prayers are with Mrs. Faulkner and Officer Faulkner's family. And I hope this ends soon because nobody should have to be going through this for almost 30 years.
"It's as if the officer is the one on trial . . . It's blame the victim. I mean, he can't defend himself or say anything."
Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.smerconish.com.