PHILADELPHIA -- The truth has taken it on the chin from a well-financed propaganda machine bent on perverting justice as it subverts the facts of the trial of a convicted cop killer, Mumia Abu-Jamal, just given a stay of execution.
The effort has been aided by lawyers who will say anything, no matter how false, to attract publicity, and by attention-seeking celebrities and spin doctors.
We know from the trial: In the early hours of Dec. 9, 1981, Danny Faulkner, a 26-year-old police officer in uniform, stopped a car driven by Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, in downtown Philadelphia.
Cook struggled with Faulkner when the officer tried to handcuff him. Abu-Jamal, driving a cab in the area, arrived and, running up behind the officer, put a bullet in his back.
Before collapsing, Faulkner shot Abu-Jamal in the chest. Abu-Jamal went up to the supine officer and shot him between his eyes, killing him. Then he sat down on the curb, dropping his gun as the police arrived. The gun, registered in his own name, was loaded with .38-caliber high-velocity bullets.
Virtually all of the small group of true believers who have turned the case into a crusade have never read the trial record. This makes it easy to justify siding with a convicted killer.
No one, certainly not I, would quarrel with sincere opponents of the death penalty. Where the shrill chorus and I part company is when it attempts to martyrize a murderer.
Why haven't the media pressed the defense to explain how and why he was shot? How come his gun contained five spent cartridge cases of the very caliber and brand as those that killed Faulkner? Why did Abu-Jamal refuse to allow his brother, an eyewitness, to testify at the trial? Why didn't Abu-Jamal ever deny shooting Officer Faulkner?
The answers are obvious. He murdered him. But truth would interfere with the orchestrated image that the killer is really a victim. Consider some of the falsehoods.
* The Fleeing Stranger Theory:
The Abu-Jamal coterie claims that several witnesses saw the "real" shooter escape. The reality is that after years of empty assertions, the defense only recently presented testimony from these "witnesses."
Not one confirms the version put out by Abu-Jamal's publicists. Essential parts of their stories contradict each other and the physical vestiges of the crime. The only witnesses whose testimony agrees with the known facts came forward immediately after the crime. They saw Abu-Jamal kill the policeman.
* The .44-Caliber Bullet Theory:
Abu-Jamal supporters contend that he couldn't be guilty because Faulkner was killed with a .44-caliber bullet, not the .38-caliber bullet from Abu-Jamal's gun. This is based on a handwritten note on a medical examiner's pre-autopsy work sheet.
But the examiner testified that he was no expert on weapons and could not precisely measure the bullet. The real expert who examined the bullet determined conclusively that it was a .38 caliber.
That bullet has been made available to the defense, whose expert refuses -- without explanation -- to look at it but concedes that all the documentation supports the evidence that the bullet is a .38.
If the Abu-Jamal legal team could have disproved the expert assessment and shown that the .38 was a .44, it would have done so.
* The Incompetent Counsel and Unfair Jury Theory:
Abu-Jamal's supporters say he was forced to accept a novice lawyer, was given no money for preparations and was subjected to the whims of a racist jury. In fact, he was represented by an experienced former prosecutor who was not foisted on him but took the case at the request of one of Abu-Jamal's friends.
The record shows that the court paid the lawyer, the defense received additional public and private funds and the lawyer had hired an investigator who worked on the case for months before and during the trial.
The jury was composed of blacks and whites chosen with Abu-Jamal's personal participation. They voted unanimously to convict him of first-degree murder and imposed the death sentence because he executed an officer in cold blood.
* The Conspiracy Theory:
The Abu-Jamal sympathizers theorize that any facts that disprove his claims must be lies cooked up by a conspiratorial band. After all, they say, he was a famous journalist whom the police framed to silence his unpopular political views.
In fact, at the time of the murder he was a high school dropout who had been fired from his radio job and was moonlighting as a cab driver. The notion that police knew who he was -- that they conspired to let the "real" killer escape so they could blame Abu-Jamal -- is ludicrous.
This crime was committed at a well-lighted intersection in full view of numerous people. When the police happened on the murder, almost immediately after it occurred, the evidence of guilt -- both eyewitness and physical -- was at the scene along with the perpetrator.
There was no reason or opportunity to fabricate these pieces of evidence, all of which corroborated each other.
There is no question of guilt. Yes, this is a troubling case, but not because the "system" convicted an innocent man.
It is troubling because it shows how easily the truth can be lost.
Lynne Abraham is the district attorney of Pennsylvania.