Veronza Bowers, Jr.
Legal History


The letter below from California AppellateProject attorney Neoma Kenwood to former Congressional RepresentativeRon Dellums -- chairman of the House Armed Services Committe andone of the most prominent members of the Congressional Black Caucus-- effectively summarizes Veronza's legal situation up to 1994.(As fate would have it, many years earlier when Dellums sat onthe "radical" Berkeley, California City Council, Veronzaserved as his body guard. This letter, however, as well as numerousappeals to Dellums by Monty Levenson went unanswered.)

The gist of this letter explains thatwhile has Veronza has served over 25 years in prison (to date,30 years), the guidelines written and applied by the Parole Commissionitself call for the service of only nine years in his case. Nonetheless,he has been ordered to serve the maximum time of incarcerationpermitted by law, 30 years, despite a recent federal court mandateto recompute his parole eligibility. The Parole Commission's denialof parole clearly violated due process, as well as the Commission'sown rules and regulations.

Veronza was finally granted reliefby the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1993 which agreed withhis challenge of the Parole Commission's decision. The Ninth Circuitdetermined that the Parole Commission, in denying parole, hadimproperly and in violation of due process relied on an unfounded,unreliable allegation that Veronza aided a 1980 inmate assault.That Court instructed the district court to return Veronza's caseto the Parole Commission to recompute his parole eligibility withoutconsideration of the unsubstantiated allegation.

The Parole Commission, however, continued(as it does to this day) to ignore the Appellate Court's mandateas well as its own violation of law. Itsdecision means that Veronza must remain in prison until his mandatoryrelease date of April 26, 2004. No reasons were given to explainthe action.

A final appeal to the National ParoleCommission (the very highest level in the Parole system) has failedto reverse this course of action. The National Commission's failureto address this injustice was due largely to the interventionof a powerful commissioner and former head of the Secret Servicewho served on the three-member politically-appointed panel.

Since that time, Veronza's long-timeattorney and staunch advocate, Mr. Curtis Crawford (Presidentof the National Parole Commission) passed away. Neoma Kenwoodceased working with the California Appellate Project and Veronzawas left without legal counsel.

Through the intervention of Monty Levensonand with the aid of attorneys BryanGaynor and First-Amerndment specialistRon Sineway, Veronza's situation was brought to the attentionof a very prominent former President of the American Defense LawyersAssociation. After careful review, this attorney declined to takeon the case as he considered the Parole Commission's intransigenceto be largely political rather than based on legal merit. Forthis reason, he felt powerless to effectively challenge its decisionin a court of law. It had clearly been decided in high placesthat Veronza remain in prison until his mandatory release date.

Disappointed but not defeated, Veronza did not abandon hope. He continued to maintain a strong, positive spirit in spite of years of imprisonment for a crime he adamantly denied committing. Less time at the law library mean more time to practice meditation and shakuhachi. With the advent of the Internet and publication of an article in the Kyoto Journal, Veronza's plight came to the attention of many members of the worldwide shakuhachi community. One member, Garf, a successful businessman, took special interest in Veronza's case and is now spearheading renewed efforts to challenge the Parole Commission's decision. In 1998, Veronza was finally moved out of maximum to a medium-security prison in Coleman, Florida. Garf , visits Veronza regularly and, with the help of his friends and supporters, has retained a new attorney, Mr. Edward R. Hammock, to take on this case. Mr. Hammock is a specialist in parole matters who has a strong interest in Veronza's situation.



January 17, 1994

Congressman Ronald Dellums
Eighth District, California
201 13th Street
Oakland, California 94612

Re: Veronza Bowers, Jr.

Dear Congressman Dellums:

I am writing to ask for your assistancein the parole matter of Veronza Bowers, Jr., a former Black Pantherwho has been imprisoned in the federal system since April of 1974.I have been referred to your office by Bob Robideau, of the AmericanIndian Movement, who you may recall from your efforts on behalfof Leonard Peltier. Bob and his wife Paulette d'Auteuil becameinvolved in Veronza's case in 1979. Veronza has received strongsupport from the American Indian Movement and is an honorary memberof the Tribe of Five Feathers.

In April of 1974, Mr. Bowers was sentencedin San Francisco District Court to a life term for the killingof a federal park ranger. At the time of his prosecution and trial,he was a Black Panther although he had suffered a falling outwith Black Panther Huey Newton. Veronza maintains that he is notguilty of the crime, and had been set up by both the FBI and certainfactions within the Panther party.

Even though Veronza, to this day, maintainshis innocence, that is not the focus of our current efforts. Thoseof us working on Veronza's behalf are attempting to gain his releasethrough parole. The following is a summary of those efforts andVeronza's treatment by the United States Parole Commission. Insum, although Veronza has served almost 20 years in prison andthe guidelines applied by the Commission call for the serviceof only nine (9) years, the Parole Commission has ordered himto serve the maximum permitted by law, 30 years, despite a recentfederal court mandate to recompute his parole eligibility.

In 1983, I became involved in Mr. Bowers'parole efforts on a pro bono basis as the result of hearing ofhis considerable achievements in prison from other federal prisoners.As a criminal defense attorney, I was originally wary of the sincerityof Mr. Bowers' actions. However, overthe past ten (10) years, I have become convinced of the sincerityof his actions, as well as the extraordinary nature of the manhimself. Veronza's spirit, as well as his achievements, have spurredvolunteer efforts by many people, including myself, to gain hisfreedom.

Mr. Bowers became eligible for paroleon December 6, 1983, after serving ten (10) years. In Novemberof that year, Mr. Bowers was given his initial parole hearingby the United States Parole Commission. Althoughhe was eligible for parole and received the best possible paroleprognosis score, 1D, [1], he was not given any parole consideration but was, instead,ordered to continue to a ten-year reconsideration hearing in November1993.

From December, 1984 to July of 1993,I appealed the Parole Commission's denial of parole on the basisthat its decision violated due process, as well as the Commission'sown rules and regulations. After filing administrative appealswith the United States Parole Commission, I filed a writ of habeascorpus in the United States District Court for the Central Districtof California. Finally, on July 1, 1993, Veronza was granted reliefby the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit determinedthat the Parole Commission, in denying parole, had improperly(and in violation of due process) relied on an unfounded, unreliableallegation that Veronza aided a 1980 inmate assault. That Courtinstructed the district court to remand Veronza's case to theParole Commission to recompute his parole eligibility absent considerationof the unsubstantiated allegation.

On July 21, 1993, Veronza was given his10-year reconsideration hearing by the Parole Commission. Althoughthe district court had not yet issued its remand order on thebasis of the Ninth Circuit decision, the attorney representingVeronza before the Parole examiners, Curtis Crawford of St. Louis,Missouri, informed them of the Ninth Cirucit decision and handedthem a copy of it. Nonetheless, on August 10, 1993, the ParoleCommission rendered a decision ignoring the Ninth Circuit's mandate.The decision made no mention ofthe Ninth Circuit decision and made no change in the parole decisionitself. It simply ordered, "No change in continue to expiration."In plain English, this decision continued Veronza beyond the applicableparole guideline period until his mandatory release date of April26, 2004. [2] No reasons were given to explain the action otherthan a statement that no regulatory or procedural changes hadbeen made by the Parole Commission since the last hearing whichwould positively affect his case.

Meanwhile, on August 25, 1993, thefederal district court issued a directive, remanding Veronza'scase to the Parole Commission and ordering the Commission to recomputehis parole eligibility absent consideration of the unfounded allegationmentioned above. In response to that order, the Parole Commissiongave Veronza another hearing at U.S.P. Terre Haute on November2, 1993. At that hearing, the panel examiners recommended thatVeronza's case be referred to the National Parole Commissionersas an original jurisdiction case [3] and further recommended thathe be paroled after the service of 300 months. At the time ofthe hearing, Veronza had already served 235 months, so the twohearing examiners were recommending a parole date of December19, 1998, after the service of an additional five (5) years.

Last Friday, January 7, we receivedanother Notice of Action from the Parole Commission. This noticeonce again ordered Veronza to continue to his mandatory releasedate, April 26, 2004. The noticestated that the parole guidelines established by the Commissioncall for the service of 108+ months in Veronza's case but thata decision above the guidelines was warranted because his "offensebehavior of homicide was premeditated." This notice, too,made no mention of the Ninth Circuit's court order nor gave anyindication that it was responding to or complying with the Court'sdirective. It provided that it was an original jurisdiction decisionand was appealable to the National Commission.

In sum, despite all of our efforts onVeronza's behalf, a multitude of letters of support from community,friends and family, several commendations by prison staff, andan order by the Ninth Circuit to recompute Veronza's parole eligibility,the Commission has refused to even consider a parole date. Veronza,who is now forty-seven years old, has been in custody almost twenty(20) years and is looking at another ten (10) years before hismaximum release date. Althoughhis guidelines, as computed by the Commission itself, call forthe service of 9 years, the Commission has ordered him to servethe maximum allowed under the law -- 30 years.

Veronza is going to appeal the Regionaldecision to the National Commissioners. This is essentially ourlast opportunity to gain Veronza's release for, to be frank, Ido not think further court action is a viable alternate giventhe Parole Commission's discretion and the Courts' general reluctanceto intervene in the Commission's business. And, an appeal to theNational Commissioners is the last possible appeal within theParole Commission itself.

Given my judgment that this will be ourlast battle, I am attempting to marshall all possible supportfor Veronza's release. Thus, I ask whether you could provide anyassistance in our effort. Another California Congressman, DanHamburg from the First District, has already agreed to help us.Congressman Hamburg wrote a previous letter of support to theParole Commission, requesting Veronza's release, and is willingto help again.

I ask whether you could do the same byproviding a letter in support of Veronza's release. A letter fromyou to the Parole Commission could have considerable influenceon its decision. To aid your decision in this matter, I enclosea packet of information about Veronza, including an excerpt froma 1991 parole appeal (and its attachments) which I prepared inVeronza's behalf. The excerpt provides a summary of some of thefacts about Veronza's activities in prison which present compellingreasons for his release.

In sum, we have emphasized the followingfactors in urging the Commission to release Veronza into the community:
a) his superior program achievement in prison (educational--communitycollege associates art degree, college courses; vocational);
b) his exemplary institutional conduct during the last ten years(including a commendation for intervening in a volatile prisonsituation where he saved guards from assault and possible homicide);
c) his activities in prison as a musician and therapist (usingmusic therapy, accupressure, and therapy message to help otherinmates);
d) his prison spiritual activities (as an honorary member of theTribe of Five Feathers and member of the Spiritual and CulturalCouncil of Native Nations);
e) the active support of prison staff for his release (includingthe strong recommendation for parole by USP Terre Haute Unit ManagerKing, who had never before represented an inmate at a parole hearingand told the Commission that he was departing from that praticein doing so in Veronza's case);
f) Veronza's considerable family and community support includingthe vocal and strong support of the American Indian Movement;and
g), and his strong and definite prospects for employment.

I do not have copies of all the lettersof support provided to the Parole Commission in preparation forVeronza's last parole hearing (as I was not actively involvedin that preparation) and so I cannot provide such copies for yourreview. I do, however, provide copies of mylast two letters to the Parole Commissionwhich may give you a more personal picture of Veronza Bowers,as well as copies of previous letters of support by Congressman Hamburg,Bob Robideau and Paulette d'Auteuil.

I hope that this information paints asufficient picture of Veronza Bowers to enable you to act andthat you are able to help us seek his release. If you are ableto prepare a letter in support, that letter should be sent to:National Appeals Board Analyst, United States Parole Commission,5550 Friendship Boulevard, Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815. Any lettersin support must be received no later than February 9, 1994. Iwould appreciate if a copy of the letter could be sent to my officeat the above-stated address.

If I can provide any more informationor provide assistance in any other manner, please contact me.I pray that you will help us in our efforts.

Neoma Kenwood
Attorney at Law

[1] Mr. Bowers received a salient factorscore of "10." This score, which is used by the ParoleCommission to determine an inmate's parole prognosis, can rangefrom 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest possible score. The scoreis then broken into four different categories of parole prognosis:1) very good [10-8]; 2) good [7-6]; 3) fair [5-4]; and 4) poor[3-0].

[2] By statute, as well as the Commission'sguidelines, a prisoner serving a life sentence must be releasedafter the service of thirty (30) years.

[3] The Parole Commission's rules providethat long-term sentence cases may be designated as original jurisdictioncases, which then entitles the inmate to a decision by a quoromof the National Commissioners.