Helped Expose Frame-Up of Mumia Abu-Jamal

In Honor of Veronica Jones

The following article is reprinted in edited form from Workers Vanguard No. 950 (15 January).

Veronica Jones, who courageously came forward with evidence of the innocence of death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, died in early December at the age of 48. Jones was an eyewitness at the scene of the December 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, for which Mumia was falsely accused and sent to death row. At Mumia’s 1982 trial, Jones, under pressure from the police, denied her original eyewitness account that she had seen two men run from the scene of the shooting. Neither of these could have been Mumia, who was found sitting on the ground profusely bleeding from a shot from a policeman’s gun. At a 1996 post-conviction relief (PCRA) hearing for Mumia in front of “hanging judge” Albert Sabo, who had presided over the 1982 frame-up trial, Jones fought off relentless harassment from Sabo and the prosecution and stuck by her original eyewitness account. In a fury, the court had Jones arrested on the witness stand and dragged off to jail on the basis of a bench warrant issued more than two years before.

The victimization of Veronica Jones was one glaring example of the lengths to which the courts, cops and prosecutors have gone to see Mumia dead or imprisoned for life. The capitalist state’s frame-up machinery included cover-ups, the disappearance of evidence exonerating Mumia and the manufacture of such fake “evidence” as a purported confession uttered by Mumia as he lay near death shortly after the shooting—a tale that was concocted by prosecutors and cops two months later.

Veronica Jones was one of many witnesses coerced by the police into changing their testimony. Jones, who had been working as a prostitute, was in jail when two detectives visited her only days before Mumia’s trial and threatened her with a long prison sentence on gun possession charges if she did not change her original account. Fearing that she would be separated for years from her three children, Jones relented. Nevertheless, she testified at the trial that weeks after the shooting, police hauled her in and offered a deal similar to one they gave to Cynthia White. Also a prostitute, White, the prosecution’s star witness, was the only one claiming to have seen Mumia with a gun in his hand, even though no other eyewitness recalled seeing her in the area at the time. At the 1982 trial, Jones testified: “They were trying to get me to say something that the other girl said…and they told us we can work the area if we tell them.” Sabo had this testimony struck from the record.

In 1996, as she was threatened with arrest, Jones defiantly told Sabo’s court: “You think that’s going to make me change my story. It’s not!” Returning to the hearing after her release from jail, Jones demonstratively sat with Mumia’s supporters. Asked why she had come forward, Jones replied that she did not want her grandchildren to “think their grandmom was living a lie.” She subsequently became a visible supporter of the fight to free Mumia. In November 2007, she wrote a protest letter to the NBC Today show, which was preparing a broadcast featuring Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner, authors of a lying tract titled Murdered by Mumia. Declaring that “I Veronica Jones firmly believe in my heart that Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent,” she wrote, “What makes you any different from those that had me ripped off the witness stand in handcuffs and arrested (all in front of my children) in a Philadelphia courtroom back in October 1996 on some bogus charge—all because I came forward to tell the truth.”

After Jones’ 1996 testimony, others came forward, confirming a massive operation of police coercion. In 1997, Pamela Jenkins, another prostitute, revealed that police had tried to force her into falsely asserting that she saw Mumia shoot Faulkner, despite the fact that she was not even at the scene of the shooting. Jenkins also testified that White had been a police informer and was threatened by the cops into perjuring herself at the 1982 trial. A 2002 sworn statement by Yvette Williams, who was in jail with Cynthia White, also stated that White was threatened by the police.

Jones’ testimony added to the accounts of a number of other witnesses who said that they saw one or two black men flee the scene right after Faulkner was shot—a fact that the state did everything possible to disappear. Notably, her testimony corresponds with the subsequent confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner. In a sworn 1999 affidavit, Beverly stated that he and another man had been hired to kill Faulkner, who “was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity” such as prostitution, gambling and drugs. (Beverly’s affidavit, Mumia’s own declaration of innocence and other material are included in the 2006 PDC pamphlet, The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent!)

Outrageously, Mumia’s lead attorney at the time, Leonard Weinglass, refused to present this explosive proof of his client’s innocence in court. This compelled Rachel Wolkenstein and Jonathan Piper, who are associated with the PDC, to resign from Mumia’s defense team. Weinglass and co-counsel Dan Williams were fired by Mumia in 2001 after the publication of Williams’ treacherous “insider’s account” of the case, Executing Justice, which was written as a preemptive strike to discredit the Beverly evidence. Since that time, court after court has refused to consider the Beverly confession and other evidence of Mumia’s innocence.

As Mumia pointed out in a 4 October 1996 column on Jones’ arrest on the witness stand, “The courts are their courts—places where, as Judge Sabo so aptly put it, ‘Justice is just an emotional feeling’.” Sabo made this snide comment during Mumia’s 1995 PCRA hearings, when he ruled against virtually every defense motion and objection and even had attorney Rachel Wolkenstein briefly thrown in jail.

There is no justice in the capitalist courts! This basic truth was spurned long ago by reformist “socialists” and assorted radical activists who subordinated the fight for Mumia’s freedom to appeals to bourgeois liberals who saw Mumia’s case as a blemish on the image of American democracy and its lying promise of “justice for all.” For years, they focused their demonstrations on the call for a new trial for Mumia—as though he could find justice in the capitalist courts. Now, with the judicial appeals in which they put their faith all but exhausted, many of these groups have petitioned Attorney General Eric Holder for a civil rights investigation into Mumia’s case.

While fighting to assist Mumia in every legal avenue available to him, we have insisted from the beginning that no reliance must be placed on the rigged scales of a “justice” system that, with the cops and prosecutors, lies at the core of the racist capitalist state, or on the capitalist politicians—whether Democratic, Republican or Green—who serve that state. We have long publicized Mumia’s case and initiated and intervened into protests on his behalf, calling to free Mumia and abolish the racist death penalty. In doing so, we have put forward a class-struggle strategy premised on the understanding that the working class, whose labor makes the wheels of capitalist society turn, has the potential power to shake and ultimately overturn the capitalist system of repression. At the same time, as we wrote in Workers Vanguard No. 941 (28 August 2009):

“The fight to mobilize the social power of the working class in struggle for Mumia’s freedom faces many obstacles. Integrated unions representing millions of workers have gone on record in support of Mumia. But these millions have not been mobilized in action to combat this racist frame-up. The responsibility for that lies with the pro-capitalist trade-union misleaders, who overwhelmingly refuse to call their members into action to defend their economic interests, much less in defense of a black political prisoner. The bureaucracy’s class-collaborationist policies, which have tied the working class to its capitalist class enemy, have dissipated the fighting strength of the unions. The pathetic reformist and liberal petitioners of Obama and Holder similarly do their best in reinforcing belief in the inherent benevolence of the capitalist state.”

We honor Veronica Jones for her defiance of the executioners in black robes. As revolutionary Marxists, our task is to forge a vanguard party that can make the working class conscious of its historic interest to be the instrumentality to shatter the power of the racist capitalist rulers and their state, opening the road to a socialist society where black oppression and the whole machinery of capitalist state terror will be relics of a barbaric past.