03 January 2012

Key witness in Abu-Jamal murder case takes the truth to his grave

On December 31, 2011, William Dale Singletary died at the age of 61. Singletary was an eyewitness to the fatal 1981 shooting of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent the past 30 years in prison for that murder, serving most of that time on death row until his death sentence was recently commuted to life without parole. And Singletary went to his grave insisting that Abu-Jamal was not the killer.

I wasn't at the scene of the crime, so I don't know what really happened. I just know that the original murder trial was flawed, with Amnesty International later reporting that "numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings."

And Singletary's compelling testimony, although thrown out by the court, seems to suggest some reasonable doubt as to Abu-Jamal's guilt.

Singletary testified that he had provided a police officer with a truthful account of what he had witnessed, including his assertion that someone else, not Abu-Jamal, had shot Faulkner. But the officer ripped up the statement and threw it away, telling Singletary that he wouldn't be allowed to leave the police station until he wrote the kind of statement that the officer wanted (that is, one that pointed to Abu-Jamal as the killer). In other words, Singletary was coerced into signing a false statement (a practice that's certainly not unheard-of in the so-called criminal justice system). In short, Singletary's story suggests, as others have alleged, that the police wanted to frame Abu-Jamal.

As someone who has repeatedly called for a fair retrial in this case, I know what it's like to deal with the rabid "Hang Mumia" crowd. But, if Singletary's story is true, I cannot imagine how frustrating and painful it must have been for him to have spent the past 30 years knowing that an innocent man was on death row because the court did not believe his own eyewitness testimony.

May he finally rest in peace.


  1. A frequent critic on PhillyIMC (See http://www.phillyimc.org/en/death-key-witness-mumias-case-william-dale-singletary ) says that Singletary also "stated Police helicopters were over head whan in fact there were none." I'm nowhere near knowledgeable enough on the case to say either way.

  2. @Rich: I've heard that too. Might have been a traffic helicopter. I see them all the time flying over the Philly area. Even if not, I wouldn't discount the entire testimony over one detail. Eyewitnesses are notorious for making mistakes - be they witnesses for the defense OR witnesses for the prosecution. Mistakes should be weighed against the aggregated whole of the evidence. And reasonable doubt should be taken seriously. (The huge number of exonerated former death row inmates is proof, however, that it is too often not.)