Friday, February 19, 2021

How police investigators, ADA Joseph McGill, and Judge Albert Sabo attempted but failed to silence defense eyewitness Veronica Jones

--Please sign our Color of Change petition to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner: Stop Defending Mumia Abu-Jamal's Unjust Conviction

(This is one segment of the original artwork created by Seth Tobocman to support our petition campaign. It is the centerpiece of our newspaper and can be viewed on the website here.)

Written by the Jamal Journal

Veronica Jones was working as a sex worker at the crime scene on Dec. 9, 1981. She first told police on Dec. 15, 1981, that she had seen two men “jogging” away from the scene before police arrived. 

As a defense witness at the 1982 trial, Jones denied having made that statement; however, later in her testimony she started to describe a pre-trial visit from police: “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 then testified that police had offered to let her and White “work the area if we tell them” what they wanted to hear regarding Abu-Jamal’s guilt.

At this point, prosecutor McGill interrupted Jones and moved to block her account, calling her testimony “absolutely irrelevant.” Judge Sabo agreed to block the line of questioning and strike the testimony and then ordered the jury to disregard Jones’ statement.

The DA and Sabo’s efforts to silence Jones continued through to the later PCRA hearings that started in 1995. Having been unable to locate Jones earlier, the defense found Jones in 1996, and, over the DA’s protests, obtained permission from the Pennsylvania 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 PA Supreme Court, which 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 five-10 years imprisonment if she testified to having perjured herself in 1982. In defiance, Jones persisted with her testimony that she had in fact lied in 1982, when she had denied her original account to police that she had seen two men “leave the scene.”

Jones testified that she had changed 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 both finger Abu-Jamal as the shooter and to retract her statement about seeing two men “run away,” the detectives stressed that she faced up to 10 years in prison and the loss of her children if convicted. Jones testified in 1996 that in 1982, afraid of losing her children, she had decided to meet the police halfway: She did not actually finger Abu-Jamal, but she did lie about not seeing two men running from the scene. Accordingly, following the 1982 trial, Jones only received probation and was never imprisoned for the charges against her.

During the 1996 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 in the courtroom.

While the DA attempted to use this arrest to discredit Jones, her determination in the face of intimidation may, arguably, have made her testimony more credible. Outraged by Jones’ treatment, even the Philadelphia Daily News, certainly no fan of Abu-Jamal, 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.”

Jones’ account was given further credibility a year later. At the 1997 PCRA hearing, former sex worker Pamela Jenkins testified that police had tried pressuring her to falsely testify that she saw Abu-Jamal shoot Faulkner. In addition, Jenkins testified that in late 1981, Cynthia White – whom Jenkins knew as a fellow police informant – told Jenkins that she was also being pressured to testify against Abu-Jamal and that she was afraid for her life.

As part of a 1995 federal probe of Philadelphia police corruption, Officers Thomas F. Ryan and John D. Baird were convicted of paying Jenkins to falsely testify that she had bought drugs from a Temple University student. Jenkins’ 1995 testimony in this probe helped to convict Ryan, Baird and other officers and also to dismiss several dozen drug convictions. At the 1997 PCRA hearing, Jenkins testified that this same Thomas F. Ryan was one of the officers who attempted to have her lie about Abu-Jamal.

More recently, a 2002 affidavit by former sex worker Yvette Williams described police coercion of Cynthia White. The affidavit reads: “I was in jail with Cynthia White in December of 1981 after Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was shot and killed. Cynthia White told me the police were making her lie and say she saw Mr. Jamal shoot Officer Faulkner when she really did not see who did it … Whenever she talked about testifying against Mumia Abu-Jamal, and how the police were making her lie, she was nervous and very excited and I could tell how scared she was from the way she was talking and crying.”

Explaining why she is just now coming out with her affidavit, Williams says: “I feel like I’ve almost had a nervous breakdown over keeping quiet about this all these years. I didn’t say anything because I was afraid. I was afraid of the police. They’re dangerous.” Williams’ affidavit was rejected by Philadelphia Judge Pamela Dembe in 2005, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in February 2008 and, in October 2008, by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Further supporting the contention that police had made a deal with White, author J. Patrick O’Connor writes: “Prior to her becoming a prosecution witness in Abu-Jamal’s case, White had been arrested 38 times for prostitution … After she gave her third statement to the police, on December 17, 1981, she would not be arrested for prostitution in Philadelphia ever again even though she admitted at Billy Cook’s trial that she continued to be ‘actively working.'”

Amnesty International reports that later, in 1987, White was facing charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault and possession of illegal weapons. A judge granted White the right to sign her own bail and she was released after a special request was made by Philadelphia Police Officer Douglas Culbreth – where Culbreth cited her involvement in Abu-Jamal’s trial. After White’s release, she skipped bail and has never, officially, been seen again.

At the 1997 PCRA hearing, the DA announced that Cynthia White was dead, and presented a death certificate for a “Cynthia Williams,” who died in New Jersey in 1992. However, Amnesty International reports, “an examination of the fingerprint records of White and Williams showed no match and the evidence that White is dead is far from conclusive.”

Journalist C. Clark Kissinger writes, a Philadelphia police detective “testified that the FBI had ‘authenticated’ that Williams had the same fingerprints as White.” However, Kissinger continues, “the DA’s office refused to produce the actual fingerprints,” and “the body of Williams was cremated so that no one could ever check the facts! Finally, the Ruth Ray listed on the death certificate as the mother of the deceased Cynthia Williams has given a sworn statement to the defense that she is not the mother of either Cynthia White or Cynthia Williams.” 

Dave Lindorff reports further that the listing of deaths by social security number for 1992 and later years does not include White’s number.

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