7 December 2012

Veronica Jones Memoir

Witness Helped Expose Mumia Abu-Jamal Frame-Up

“As I lay in a coma for two months in early 2007, I could hear the voices around me.... All I knew was that I wanted to live. I did not want to die, not like this. There’s a lot I want to do and say and have wanted to say for years.”

Veronica Jones did live for another three years, and before she died in 2009 at the age of 48, finally got her say in an autobiography as told to her sister Valerie, which was posthumously published earlier this year. Veronica and the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is the riveting story of a 20-year-old mother of three and part-time prostitute who was an eyewitness at the scene of the 9 December 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. This was the killing for which Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther Party spokesman, a MOVE supporter and acclaimed journalist, was falsely accused and sentenced to death.

Jones’ personal story cuts a large chunk out of the heart of the racist frame-up and decades-long conspiracy to legally lynch Mumia, an innocent man, or to keep this fighter for the oppressed locked in prison hell for the rest of his life. Several days after Faulkner’s killing, Jones told police she saw two black men run from the scene. Neither of these could have been Mumia, who was found slumped on the sidewalk profusely bleeding from a shot from a policeman’s gun. Jones’ report of two men running away would have been devastating to the prosecution scenario, which is that Mumia “must have” been the one who shot Faulkner because no one else but Mumia and his brother William Cook were on the street corner with Faulkner. But under intense intimidation from the Philly cops, at Mumia’s 1982 trial Jones recanted her account, dealing a blow to his defense. Although several witnesses saw one or more black men flee the scene, almost all of these witnesses’ accounts were kept from Mumia’s jury.

However, 14 years later, Jones came forward at a post-conviction hearing and stood up to the prosecutors, cops and “hanging judge” Albert Sabo to explain how the cops had pressured her to lie at the 1982 trial. In retaliation, Sabo and the prosecutors had her arrested on the witness stand and dragged off to jail on the basis of a New Jersey bench warrant (for supposedly trying to pass a bad check!) that had been issued more than two years earlier. 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 being released from jail, Jones demonstratively sat with Mumia’s supporters.

In her 1996 post-conviction testimony, Jones revealed how only days before Mumia’s trial, two detectives visited her in jail where she was held facing robbery charges. In her book, she describes how the sadistic cops laughed at her pleas to go to the bathroom, forcing her to urinate on herself. The cops threatened Jones with a long prison sentence on gun possession charges if she didn’t play ball, adding that her three daughters would be taken and placed in foster care. She recalled that one “detective stepped over to me only inches from my face, the whole while staring me directly in the eyes, never taking his eyes away from mine and with a straight face said, ‘We want you to tell the court that Mumia Abu-Jamal is the person that shot Officer Faulkner and we will make those five to fifteen years disappear’.”

At trial Jones refused to finger Mumia but denied her initial report that she had seen two men flee the shooting. What she did say, though, was that the cops had offered her the same deal they gave prostitute Cynthia White—to work the streets without cop harassment in exchange for saying that Mumia shot Faulkner. This had the potential to blow the frame-up apart, and for that reason was suppressed by Judge Sabo as “not relevant.”

The pressure put on Jones to echo White’s false account underscores the fragility of the prosecution’s case. Cops and prosecutors disappeared evidence exonerating Mumia and manufactured such fake “evidence” as a confession purportedly uttered by Mumia as he lay near death shortly after the shooting—a tale that was concocted by prosecutors and cops two months after Faulkner’s killing. White, the prosecution’s star witness, was the only one to testify seeing Mumia with gun in hand. No other witness even recalled seeing her in the area at the time. In the months leading up to Mumia’s trial, White repeatedly changed her account of what she saw. One reason the cops put intense pressure on Jones was that they feared that White couldn’t keep her fabricated story straight at trial. (For a fuller account and documentation of Mumia’s frame-up, see the 2006 Partisan Defense Committee pamphlet, The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal—Mumia Is Innocent!)

The most dramatic new revelation in Jones’ book is that she was having sex with Faulkner over a period of time before the shooting. In previous testimony, Jones had made clear that she knew Faulkner and that he had helped her. Jones’ book recounts how Faulkner assisted her one night after two other Philly cops viciously raped and robbed her, recalling, “He didn’t seem surprised by my story of what happened that night.” According to her memoirs, they had sex the night of Faulkner’s shooting, when he was in a strange mood as if “something really confidential” was “going to go down out there.”

Jones’ account of Faulkner’s frame of mind accords with the situation detailed in the subsequent confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner. Beverly’s 1999 sworn affidavit (one of the documents in the PDC pamphlet) tells how he and another man were hired for the job because Faulkner “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.

Veronica Jones remained a visible supporter of the fight to free Mumia until her death, and for that she paid a great price. “She was determined to tell the whole story,” Valerie Jones writes in the book’s introduction, “for herself, for her family and above all, for an innocent man on death row. She believed, as I do, that Mumia Abu-Jamal is guilty of nothing except surviving that night and her own experience points to a deliberate police frame-up.” The book concludes, “The state’s determination to execute Mumia impacted the entirety of Veronica’s adult life.” The book includes a foreword by Mumia and a legal afterword by Rachel Wolkenstein, formerly a PDC counsel who was part of Mumia’s legal team in the late 1990s and continues to provide him legal assistance.

In 2011, ten years after a ruling by a federal judge overturning Mumia’s death sentence, the Philly district attorney’s office announced that it would not seek to reinstate the death penalty. Mumia, who never should have spent one day in jail, now faces the living death of life in prison without parole. There is no justice in the capitalist courts! Since first taking up Mumia’s defense in 1987, the Spartacist League and the PDC have favored every possible legal action against the frame-up while at the same time stressing that fighters for Mumia’s freedom must place their reliance on the power of mass, labor-centered protest. It will take a workers revolution to smash the greater prison house that is racist American capitalism, opening the road to an egalitarian socialist society. The future American workers state will honor the memory of Veronica Jones for her brave defiance of the executioners in black robes.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1014, 7 December 2012)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.