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Witness in case of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Veronica Jones

Published Jan 15, 2010 10:25 PM

Veronica Jones

Veronica Jones, a witness during the 1982 trial and 1996 Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal, died Dec. 8. Jones will be remembered as a heroic sister who stood up to Judge Albert Sabo in October 1996 and testified that she had been coerced by the Philadelphia police to lie about what she had seen.

Abu-Jamal, a progressive journalist and former member of the Black Panther Party, was framed in the fatal shooting of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981. Jones, a young sex worker who was in the area when Faulkner was shot, told police that she had witnessed two men “jogging” away from the crime scene.

Between that time and Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial, Jones was arrested and imprisoned, facing charges of robbery and assault. There in her cell she was visited by two detectives. Stressing that she faced 10 years in prison and the loss of her children if convicted, the police pressured Jones to finger Mumia. Afraid of losing her children, Jones didn’t actually finger Mumia, but did not report that she had seen two men running from the scene of the killing. Subsequently, Jones only received probation and was never imprisoned on the 1982 charges.

However, when asked by the defense at the 1982 trial if she had talked with police since making her first statement, Jones testified that police had visited her in jail and offered to let her and key prosecution witness Cynthia White, another sex worker, “work the area” in return for testimony that Abu-Jamal shot Faulkner.

When the district attorney denounced her testimony as “absolutely irrelevant” and asked Judge Sabo to block that line of questioning and strike Jones’ statement, Sabo happily complied.

The state’s efforts to silence Jones continued through Abu-Jamal’s PCRA hearing in October 1996, when she again took the stand, this time openly on Abu-Jamal’s behalf. As Jones stood to testify, Sabo immediately threatened her with five- to 10-years’ imprisonment if she admitted to having perjured herself in 1982. Jones refused to back down and testified about the police pressure to change her version of events.

During cross-examination, the district attorney announced that there was an outstanding arrest warrant for Jones on charges of writing a bad check, and that she would be arrested after concluding her testimony. With tears pouring down her face, Jones defiantly stated, “This is not going to change my testimony!”

In a letter to MSNBC’s Today Show in November 2007 — at the time the show’s hosts were set to interview attorney Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner, spouse of Officer Daniel Faulkner, about their book “Murdered by Mumia” — Jones wrote: “If there were no merit or questions looming regarding Mr. Jamal’s innocence, then can someone please explain to me why so much effort was exerted to publicly try to discredit and humiliate me? Having me handcuffed and arrested while on the witness stand when I tried to come forward with the truth is one such example of the intimidation, threats and bullying I’ve endured since December 1981.”

Until her death, Jones continued to support efforts to win a new trial for Abu-Jamal and was a frequent speaker at rallies on his behalf. Longtime Black Power activist Herman Ferguson once described Jones as a real working-class heroine.

Suzanne Ross of the New York Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition said of Jones: “She was a reminder of what people can rise to when provided with any support or encouragement. We loved Veronica, and will never forget her.”