by Hans Bennett, Abu-Jamal-News.com
Outraged by the March 27 denial of a new guilt-phase trial for Mumia, 500-1,000 people gathered at the Federal Courthouse, circled the Liberty Bell, and marched to City Hall, where speakers included Cynthia McKinney, Julia Wright, and Harold Wilson. VIEW the PHOTOS and VIDEO, featuring an exclusive interview with Veronica Jones about her new book (also watch video of March 31 press conference).
SEE: Free Speech Radio News II Demo at US Embassy in Mexico City II POCC Block Report Radio Show II Betsey Piette's A19 report II Alternet report II Leonard Peltier for Mumia II FIST Statement II LGBT Rainbow Flags for Mumia II Imani Henry's Podcast II Cynthia McKinney Speech II Photos of KSS Racists at Geno's II Call to Pressure Officials II Michael Schiffmann's new articles on Judge Sabo, The Batson Ruling, and Billy Cook's Trial
Police Coercion of Veronica Jones
--Covering up the presence of another person at the Dec. 9, 1981 crime scene
Veronica Jones' 1996 PCRA testimony exposed police coercion of witnesses and further discredited the 1982 testimony of the DA's star witness: prostitute Cynthia White (the only one to actually testify to seeing Abu-Jamal pull the trigger).
The story begins on Dec.15, 1981 when Jones (a prostitute who was working nearby on Dec.9) first told police that she had seen two men “jogging” away from the crime scene before police arrived.
Testifying in 1982, Jones recanted and denied ever making the statement. However, when asked if she had talked to the police since her first statement, Jones testified that police had visited her in jail the next month:
“They were getting on me telling me I was in the area and I seen Mumia, you know, do it...They were trying to get me to say something that the other girl [Cynthia White] said. I couldn't do that.” Jones reported that police offered to let her and White “work the area if we tell them.”
Calling her testimony “absolutely irrelevant,” the DA moved to block the line of questioning and strike the previous statements. Because Sabo happily complied, the jury was ordered to disregard Jones' statement regarding White and a police offer of freedom to “work the area” in return for testimony that Abu-Jamal shot Faulkner.
The DA and Sabo's efforts to silence Jones continued through to the PCRA hearings. Unable to locate her earlier, the Defense found Jones in 1996, and (over the DA's protests) obtained permission from the State Supreme Court to extend the PCRA hearings for Jones' testimony. Sabo vehemently resisted—arguing that there was not sufficient proof of her unavailability in 1995. However, in 1995 Sabo had refused to order disclosure of Jones' home address to the defense team.
Over Sabo’s objections, the defense returned to the State Supreme Court—which then ordered Sabo to conduct a full evidentiary hearing. Sabo's attempts to silence Jones continued as she took the stand. He immediately threatened her with 5-10 years imprisonment if she testified to having perjured herself in 1982. In defiance, Jones testified to perjury in 1982 when she recanted seeing two men “run away” and “leave the scene.”
She testified to changing her version of events after being visited by two detectives in prison, where she was being held on charges of robbery and assault. Urging her to finger Mumia, the detectives stressed that she faced up to 10 years in prison and the loss of her children if convicted. Afraid of losing her children, Jones testified to having met the police halfway: she didn't actually finger Mumia, but she did lie about not seeing two men running from the scene. Accordingly, Jones only received probation and was never imprisoned for these 1982 charges.
During cross-examination, the DA 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 declared: “This is not going to change my testimony!”
Despite objections from the defense, Sabo allowed New Jersey police to handcuff and arrest Jones.
While the DA attempted to use this arrest to discredit Jones, her determination in the face of intimidation only made her more credible. Outraged by Jones' treatment, even the mainstream Philadelphia Daily News reported: “Such heavy-handed tactics can only confirm suspicions that the court is incapable of giving Abu-Jamal a fair hearing. Sabo has long since abandoned any pretense of fairness.”
The same coercion of witnesses by police, DA, and judge exposed by Jones' story was rampant in Mumia's case. Documented by Amnesty International, witnesses Cynthia White (a prostitute facing multiple charges) and Robert Chobert (an arsonist on probation, driving his cab without a license, which he had lost twice due to DWI) also “altered their descriptions of what they saw, in ways that supported the prosecution's version of events.”
While the defense did attempt to challenge these discrepancies, Sabo blocked efforts to inform the 1982 jury fully about the vulnerability of these witnesses to police pressure.
Speaking about White, both Veronica Jones (in 1996) and another ex-prostitute, Pamela Jenkins (in 1997) testified that she was blackmailed into her testimony by the police, who had the power to pursue or drop prostitution charges against her, and in January 2002, yet another witness, Yvette Williams, testified that White’s trial testimony against Mumia was the result of her fearing for her life because of threats by the police.
As for the second most important prosecution witness, cab driver Robert Chobert, he was not only vulnerable because he had been driving without a license, but also because he was on probation because he had firebombed a school, and with his probation revoked for illegally driving a cab, he faced a potentially very long time in jail. And yet his probation was never revoked while he continued to illegally drive his cab at least until the 1995 PCRA hearing, with an occasional fine being his heaviest punishment.