Veronica Jones was a key witness at the scene of the murder for which class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was falsely convicted. Her powerful memoire, Veronica & the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, finished posthumously by her sister Valerie Jones, pivots on 9 December 1981, when her life became entwined with Mumia’s. That night, her lover, Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, was shot dead on Locust Street, where she was working as a prostitute. Veronica was on the scene immediately after the shooting, and what she saw flatly contradicted the story police concocted to frame Mumia. The cops pressured Veronica to lie and brand Mumia as the shooter, but she refused. When she attempted to tell the truth, they tried to silence her, but, as Mumia wrote in his forward to her book, “she did not fold. She did not say what the government wanted her to say.”
While Veronica did not break and give the testimony the prosecution wanted, as a young mother of three faced with the threat of a lengthy prison sentence on serious weapons possession charges, she did change her story. In her initial statement to the police six days after the killing, she said that within seconds of hearing gun shots she had seen “a policeman falling to the ground.” She also noticed a black man at a distance, who she said “probably saw everything” as well as two tall black men standing “only a couple of feet” from the policeman. When Veronica testified at Mumia’s trial in June 1982, however, she stunned the defense by denying seeing these two men at the scene. This supported the prosecution’s claim that only three people were present at the crime scene: Faulkner, Mumia and his brother.
Veronica recounts how the police attempted to persuade her to change her story three weeks after her original deposition. She was told that if she identified Mumia as the shooter, she could get the same deal as Cynthia White, a fellow sex-trade worker who, after becoming the prosecution’s lynchpin witness, was allowed to work the streets without interference. Veronica had decided to give up prostitution and had no charges pending, so the police had little leverage.
By the time of Mumia’s trial, however, the situation had changed considerably. Veronica recounts how, in June 1982, while in jail on robbery and weapons charges (which were ultimately dismissed), she was taken into an interrogation room, where she was humiliated and threatened. The detectives questioning her refused to allow her a bathroom break and laughed when she wet herself. They told her that she was looking at serious jail time (five to fifteen years) but offered to get her case thrown out. All she had to do was finger Mumia as the shooter.
When Veronica began to reveal this police blackmail at Mumia’s trial, “hanging Judge” Albert Sabo (who was overheard in 1982 by a court stenographer to say, “I’m going to help them fry the nigger”) refused to permit it, and ordered all mention of it struck from the record.
In a legal afterword to the book, Rachel Wolkenstein, a former member of Mumia’s legal team and a long-time supporter, explains the importance of Veronica’s role at the 1982 trial: “[Veronica] did not testify that Mumia was the shooter. She got on the record that the police made promises and threats to prostitutes to lie and falsely accuse Mumia. She named Cynthia White (‘Lucky’) in particular.”
Fourteen years later, when Mumia’s defense team located Veronica, she was, according to Wolkenstein, “pro-actively forthcoming.” The book includes a transcript of Veronica’s testimony at Mumia’s post-conviction relief hearing in 1996, at which she appeared for the defense, and revealed that the police had coerced her into lying at the original trial in 1982. Before Veronica began to testify, Judge Sabo asked: “has your attorney advised you that if you say something now which is different from what you said at the trial, you could be charged with perjury?” He threatened that she could face up to seven years in jail for each perjured statement. When attempts to intimidate her failed, the authorities took a different tack and arrested her on the witness stand on a charge of passing a bad check years earlier. She was subsequently slapped with a 14-year-old prostitution charge, which was later dismissed thanks to the intervention of a sympathetic lawyer.
Veronica & the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is a vivid, compelling and deeply personal account with important political and social implications. Told by someone marginalized by the gender and racial oppression endemic to capitalist society, it is the story of a woman’s struggle to tell the truth about the frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal.