On Sunday, a college in New England that you've never heard of will celebrate commencement exercises for 20 students - and they've chosen a convicted cop killer as their speaker.
The school is an unusual place. It has only a few hundred students. They get to design their own curriculum. And they have nearly two dozen individualized commencements every year. Sunday's speaker received a degree from the school while on death row.
He won't be there physically; he's serving a life sentence without parole in Pennsylvania. Instead he's used his telephone access to record a message.
I think I'm well-qualified to offer some background facts on this issue. In 2008, I wrote the memoir of the police officer's widow, Murdered by Mumia, a New York Times best seller for which I accepted no proceeds from the sales of the book.
On Dec. 9, 1981, at about 4 a.m., 25-year-old Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was executed while making what seemed like a routine traffic stop.
Faulkner pulled over the brother of Mumia Abu-Jamal, William Cook, who was driving his Volkswagen the wrong way on a one-way street in the city's red-light district.
Abu-Jamal was then an out-of-work journalist who was driving a cab. His revolutionary ideas were well-documented.
He saw the police stop from across the street.
Four eyewitnesses testified at trial as to what happened next. Their testimony portrayed a horrific sequence:
Abu-Jamal ran across the street, shot Faulkner in the back, and finally between the eyes. Before that final fatal shot, Faulkner had discharged his gun, hitting Abu-Jamal in the stomach. With that bullet, you could say he confirmed the identity of his executioner.
When police arrived quickly on the scene, Abu-Jamal was still wearing his shoulder holster.
The murder weapon was registered to Abu-Jamal. He'd purchased it at a local sporting-goods store. The five-shot Charter Arms revolver contained five spent shells. Ballistics tests verified that the shells found in Abu-Jamal's gun were the same caliber, brand, and type as the fatal bullet removed from Faulkner's brain.
Both men where taken to a local ER. Faulkner was pronounced dead. Abu-Jamal was heard by witnesses to say, "I shot the motherf- and I hope the motherf- dies."
So the case had eyewitnesses, a ballistics match, and a confession.
Danny Faulkner left behind a young widow, Maureen, who for three decades has stood up to a torrent of lies and misinformation about the case while death-penalty opponents the world over championed Abu-Jamal.
The evidence has been parsed for 30 years. Whenever I'm educating someone about the case, in addition to what I've already pointed out, I point out one fact: Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, saw it all. It was his car stop that set in motion the chain of events. His words to police upon their arrival were, "I ain't got nothing to do with it," and he has never testified on his brother's behalf. Let me say that again - the brother of the man convicted of killing the cop has never taken the stand to tell a different story, and he was there.
In 1982, a multiracial jury heard the case. It convicted Abu-Jamal and then sentenced him to death.
For a quarter-century, an endless cycle of Abu-Jamal appeals made a mockery of the judicial system. All the while, his defense team was able to attract a long list of celebrity supporters.
Ed Asner, Whoopi Goldberg, and Mike Farrell are among the many who lent their names to his support. A street was renamed for him in France. Oakland, Calif., schools had a teach-in about him. NPR gave him his own radio show and he wrote several books. All of this was after he was convicted of murdering a cop.
But that has always been a remote phenomenon. At home in Philadelphia, Abu-Jamal was never able to cultivate community support, except from some fringe types. People at home know what happened and don't buy into the Hollywood lore.
In 2011, Abu-Jamal's death sentence was ultimately overturned on a technicality - whether the jury was properly instructed on aggravating vs. mitigating circumstances - but not his conviction. The district attorney, in consultation with Faulkner's widow, decided not to appeal that ruling. Doing so might have begun another three decades of appeal.
Abu-Jamal will die in jail, a fate more civilized than what he did to Danny Faulkner.
Sadly, the idea that he would be a college commencement speaker is not unprecedented. It happened in 1999 in the state of Washington and in 2000 at a school in Ohio.
I attended the second of those events, with Maureen Faulkner, in protest of what was taking place. What I recall from that experience 14 years ago was concluding that the students desperately wanted attention. They enjoyed the media discussion that ensued.
Which is why now, although explaining what the case is all about, I will not identify the Vermont college that on Sunday will attempt to make a mockery of a police officer murdered in the line of duty. It's bad enough that for 32 years, Abu-Jamal has succeeded in making the case all about him.