Veronza Bowers, Jr. - Another Victim of America's Criminal Justice System
by Stephen Lendman
Monday, 13 July 2009
Throughout Veronza Bowers' incarceration, the Parole Commission
consistently violated its own rules and regulations in denying Bowers
due process - even after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (in 1993)
determined that it acted improperly.
On September 15, 1973, Veronza Bowers, Jr. was arrested in Mill
Valley, California and charged with robbery and possession of stolen
property. After state charges were dropped for lack of probable cause
to obtain a search warrant, the FBI arrested Bowers and charged him
with the first-degree murder of National Park Service ranger Kenneth
Patrick on August 5, 1973 at Point Reyes National Seashore near San Francisco.
At trial, testimonies from two government informants, Alan Veale and
Jonathan Shoher, proved crucial. Both were also charged with the
killing. Yet there were no independent eye-witnesses, and no evidence
incriminated Bowers besides the word of these two men who had every
incentive to cooperate with the Department of Justice.
Veale and Shoher were convicted bank robbers. In return for their
testimony, their murder charges were dropped, and one of them served
no prison time, was paid $10,000, and placed in the government's
witness protection program.
Allegations were that the three men were at Point Reyes National
Seashore to poach deer, ranger Patrick confronted them, and Bowers
shot him three times. At trial, he testified for himself and
steadfastly denied the charge. His wife's alibi testimony was
dismissed as well as assertions by two relatives of the informants
who insisted they were lying.
In April 1974, Bowers was convicted in San Francisco District Court
and sentenced to life in prison. He's currently held at the United
States Penitentiary (USP), Atlanta, Georgia.
In August 1979, after a failed prison escape from the Lompoc Federal
Correctional Institution, Bowers became a model prisoner by focusing
on his spiritual self. He became an author, musician, and student of
Asian healing arts. He developed a strong interest in Buddhist
meditation and hands-on healing techniques. He's an honorary Lompoc
Tribe of Five Feathers member, a Native American spiritual and
cultural group, and a mentor and founder of the All-Faith Meditation
Group, a non-denominational spiritual organization devoted to healing
meditation using the traditional Japanese shakuhachi flute.
At the expense of having his parole appeals denied, Bowers
consistently maintains his innocence. Friends and supporters stand
with him and offer testimony in his behalf.
Neoma Kenwood is a California Appellate Project attorney who
represented Bowers pro bono for many years. On August 14, 1991, he
wrote to the Parole Commission, mainly as a friend, and said this was
his first ever letter like this. He did it because "Mr. Bowers is in
a special category....(he's) very different; I have found him to
possess much more integrity and decency than many of my fellow professionals."
Prison Administrator J. Harrison praised Bowers in a 1991 letter for
his "contributions to the operations and programs of the (US
Penitentiary Terre Haute, IN) Recreation Department," calling them
"numerous and significant." He added that he "can be depended upon to
willingly and cheerfully perform any extra task which the staff of
this department might ask of him, (and) strongly endorsed" his parole.
Numerous other support letters were similar, including one by Maynard
Garfield. He's treasurer of the Veronza Bowers, Jr. legal defense
fund. He describes him as mature, intelligent, thoughtful and
compassionate, and considers it "a privilege and a pleasure to call
him my friend." Yet he's been denied parole at his hearings. Garfield said:
"I have pleaded with him. Just tell them: 'I was young and did wrong.
But I have found my way. I am a born-again Christian. I have found
"Don't you understand. I have been here for 35 years. If the only way
I can get out is to lie and say I am guilty, then my whole life if a
sham. I will rot here in prison before I will do that."
According to Garfield, rot he may without considerable help, and
that's why this article is written - to urge readers to go
www.veronza.org for information about him and learn how to help.
Numerous times before, he was approved for parole and given release
dates, only to have them rescinded at the last moment.
On October 5, 2005, he was due for Mandatory Parole but again was
denied. On July 18, 2005 Bryan Gaynor, Alan Chaset and Monty Levenson
representing him explained as follows:
"The National Parole Commission has again blocked Veronza Bowers,
Jr.'s right to be released on mandatory parole after serving more
than 31 years in prison....(its) third in a series of high-handed and
improper actions to deny (him) his right....in complete disregard of
the Commission's legal obligation to follow applicable federal
statutes as well as its own rules and regulations. We believe this
latest and most egregious decision, made at the request of Attorney
General Alberto Gonzales, is politically motivated, disregards
Veronza's exceptionally good conduct in prison, and is an unlawful
denial of his right to due process."
The lawyers also provided background information and explained that
Bowers was legally entitled to "mandatory parole" since April 7, 2004 because:
* no evidence showed he might commit a crime if released;
* he hadn't violated prison rules; or
* committed serious infractions during his years of
incarceration; in fact, he's a model prisoner.
Nonetheless, his parole was denied. Then on October 26, 2004, Federal
Judge William Terrell Hodges of the Middle District of Florida ruled
on a habeas writ and ordered the Commission to hold a hearing within
30 days and release Bowers on "mandatory parole" if he complied with
the above three qualifications.
A December 21, 2004 hearing was held at which nationally-recognized
criminologist and Clinical Director of the National Center of
Institutions and Alternatives Hans H. Selvog testified. He
administered a battery of psychological tests and determined that
Bowers is normal, socially well-adjusted with no criminal
disposition, and an excellent candidate for parole.
Examiner Rob Haworth also testified that Bowers was eligible for
"mandatory parole." He said he believed he was one of the most worthy
candidates he'd encountered and recommended that he be released on
February 18, 2005. Commissioner Cranston Mitchell ordered it based on
Yet on that date, at the last moment, the Commission notified the
Coleman Correction Facility warden that the parole was rescinded, and
the five-member Commission would reconsider his case. Besides
political pressure from Washington, the ruling was based on
unsupported allegations of ranger Patrick's widow and members of the
Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). The woman supported her dead husband
with no knowledge of the facts. FOP members cited spurious
allegations of prison rule violations, including arranging for two
Earlier on August 26, 2005, Association of National Park Rangers
president Lee Werst wrote Thomas Hutchinson, chief of staff, US
Parole Commission as follows:
"....we believe a decision by the Commission to parole Mr. Bowers
would send the wrong message to the federal law enforcement community
we all depend on to protect our public lands and citizens. Indeed, it
would send the wrong message to Mr. Patrick's family and friends, to
every employee of the National Park Service, and to all federal
agency personnel - that the memory of Ranger Patrick's ultimate
sacrifice somehow holds lesser importance than the early release of a
On March 21, 2005, a rehearing was held and affirmed the previous
December's recommendations: namely, that no credible evidence
supported denying Bowers release. Between March 21 and May 16, the
Commission exercised its "original jurisdiction" and voted two in
favor, two opposed, and one abstention on parole. Anything less than
a majority meant Bowers should be freed. June 21, 2005 was his
scheduled release date, but on June 14, at the request of AG Alberto
Gonzales, the Commission rescinded it without notifying his lawyers
so they and Bowers could respond.
Attorneys Gaynor, Chaset and Levenson considered this action "to be
without a proper basis in law. There is no statutory authority
whatsoever (for it). It is our position that the original
jurisdiction decision by the Commission constituted final agency
action and any further action taken in this matter violates due process."
What's most objectionable is how the politicization of Bowers' case
made an impartial administrative process impossible. Gonzales'
intervention was "illegal, unprecedented and pander(ed) to the
political agenda of his administration's constituents." It defiled
the case's merits and kept him incarcerated to this day, over four years later.
On June 6, 2009, Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Rhonda Cook said
"US Magistrate Susan Cole....wrote in a final report and
recommendation order that US Attorney (General) Alberto Gonzales
improperly meddled in (his) case (and that Bowers should) be paroled
Cole said Gonzales "had no statutory or regulatory authority" to get
involved and by doing so affected the Commission's impartiality. In a
recommendation to US District Judge Charles Moye, assigned to handle
Bowers' 2008 lawsuit, she added that the decision to keep Bowers
imprisoned "cannot stand." A Commission spokesperson declined to
comment. Current Bowers attorney Charles D. Weisselberg was confident
that an honest review of the case would yield a favorable decision
for his client.
On August 13, 2005, former political prisoner Ashanti Alston read
Bowers' prepared statement at a Washington, DC Justice Rally. He said:
"....I am Veronza Bowers, Jr. I am a former member of the original
Black Panther Party (more on that below) and have been held in
federal prison for almost 32 years. I am just one of the many
long-held Political Prisoners whom government officials officially
claim do not exist....I was convicted (mainly on the testimonies) of
two paid 'informants (sound familiar?) in (a) shooting death (I had
no part in)."
"....your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters and friends are
filling up these prisons with sentences longer than they've been on
this earth....they are filling the graveyards before they've had a
chance to live. Something is dreadfully wrong with this
picture...Please, can we have a full minute of silence to remember
and honor all those who have gone before us in our struggle. For a
better future for us all. After the silence, I salute and thank you."
The Original Black Panther Party
As Bowers said above, he was "a former member of the original Black
Panther Party." This writer's October 2008 article on the San
Francisco Eight former members contained the section below - slightly
edited here to explain what party members stood for, an agenda far
different from mainstream propaganda about them.
In October 1966, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black
Panther Party for Self-Defense. It was progressive, activist,
militantly for ethnic justice, racial emancipation, and real
economic, social, and political equality across gender and color
lines - radical ideas then and now. The party's ten-point program
* freedom and "power to determine the destiny of our black community;"
* full employment for black people and everyone;
* "an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black community;"
* decent housing;
* education to expose "the true nature of this decadent American
society (and teach) us our true history and our role in the
* for "all black men to be exempt from military service" at a
time they were drafted for foreign wars;
* "an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people;"
* "freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county and
city prisons and jails" as political prisoners;
* for black people in court "to be tried....by a jury of their
peer group or people from their black communities;" and
* "land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace."
It added words from the Declaration of Independence at the end:
* "that all men are created equal";
* "to secure (their) rights, governments are instituted among
men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;"
* "that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of
these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and
institute a new government;"
* "to throw off (despotism), and to provide new guards for
(peoples') future security."
They believed in the rule of law, published a newspaper with 250,000
readers that articulated fundamental wants and needs, and practiced
what they preached with:
* nutritious breakfasts for poor children;
* groceries for needy families;
* free clinics for medical care;
* a free ambulance service;
* help for the homeless;
* free legal aids and bussing to prisons;
* after-school and summer classes teaching black history; and
* voter registration drives for blacks that helped elect
Oakland's first black mayor, Lionel Wilson, in the city where the
Panthers were founded.
They were young, idealistic, and willing to put their lives on the
line for their beliefs and activism. Their goal was to make the world
a better place - for black people and everyone. They were
revolutionaries, hostile to repression. In Huey Newton's words they
were: "never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the
'white establishment.' The Party operated on love for black people,
not hatred of white people." Their 2000 members demanded change and
struggled for it from over 30 branches nationwide.
They wanted redress of longstanding grievances - slavery, Jim Crow
laws and practices, segregation, neglect and abuse, and claimed their
right of self-defense against them. It was a revolutionary agenda
that included ideas Jefferson preached, but for practicing them the
US government targeted them for destruction and largely succeeded.
The 1960s civil rights gains as well so that today blacks are
repressed, impoverished, and segregated. They're stripped of their
voting rights, and consigned to second class status by a society
disdaining them, other people of color, and all non-Christians or Jews.
The October 2008 article focused on the San Francisco Eight (SF 8) -
innocent men targeted by the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO - a gangster
operation that never ended. Because of their Black Panther activism,
they were framed for crimes they didn't commit from 1968 - 1973.
Updated Status of the SF 8
On July 6, California state prosecutors dropped charges against four
members for lack of sufficient evidence - Ray Boudreaux, Richard
Brown, Hank Jones and Harold Taylor. Jalil Muntaqim pled no contest
to conspiracy to commit voluntary manslaughter, received credit for
time served and three years probation. He'll now return to New York
to seek parole. Attorney Soffiyah Elijah said: "This is finally the
disposition of a case that should never have been brought in the first place."
Francisco Torres still faces an August 10 court hearing. He
steadfastly maintains his innocence, according to his attorney
Charles Bourdon who'll file a motion to dismiss charges to have his
Herman Bell pled guilty to the reduced charge of involuntary
manslaughter and received a sentence of five years probation with no
Albert Nuh Washington died in prison.
Veronza Bowers, Jr. was targeted for the same reason as the SF 8 -
for being black and committed to social justice for all people
equally. Today, others as dedicated risk the same fate at a time
we're all watched and as vulnerable as Veronza.
A Brief Legal History of Bowers' Case
Throughout his incarceration, the Parole Commission consistently
violated its own rules and regulations in denying Bowers due process
- even after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (in 1993) determined
that it acted improperly. It granted him relief, and instructed the
District Court to have the Commission recompute his parole eligibility.
Nonetheless, the Commission ignored the order and ruled (without
explanation) that Bowers must stay in prison until his mandatory
April 26, 2004 release date. A final appeal to the National Parole
Commission failed to reverse the decision.
Bowers became eligible for parole on December 6, 1983 after serving
10 years in prison. In November, he had his first hearing before the
US Parole Commission, was denied, and was ordered to serve another 10
years before reconsideration. All subsequent legal appeals failed
until the 1993 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. It was also
ignored, and Bowers remains incarcerated despite considerable efforts
on his behalf and the below listed factors about him:
* his exemplary conduct and achievements as a model prisoner,
including attaining a community college associates of arts degree and
receiving a commendation for saving guards from assault or possible
death by intervening in a hostile prison confrontation;
* his activities as an author, musician and therapeutic healer -
through music, accupressure, and therapy message;
* his spirituality, strong emotional state, and belief in nonviolence;
* his receiving the highest possible "salient factor" score of 10
- the Parole Commission rating to determine his eligibility and
prognosis if paroled; and
* the active support of prison staff, family, friends, and
community for his release.
Bowers' lawyers and supporters continue their struggle to free him,
the National Jericho Movement among them that seeks "Recognition and
Amnesty" for political prisoners in America. It calls holding them
"an act of terror" and says this as an advocate for Bowers:
"TOGETHER, we can help force the US Parole Commission and the federal
prison system honor its obligation to let Veronza Bowers go free" -
after unjustly being imprisoned for 35 years, yet courageously
enduring it with dignity and steadfast adherence to his principles.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the
<http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php>Centre for Research on
Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at
Also visit his blog site at
<http://www.sjlendman.blogspot.com>sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen
to The Global Research News Hour on
from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with
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Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with
permission of the author.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Veronza Bowers, Jr. - Another Victim of America's Criminal Justice System