Veronza Bowers, Jr.
Legal History


The letter below from California Appellate Project attorney Neoma Kenwood to former Congressional Representative Ron Dellums -- chairman of the House Armed Services Committe and one 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 on the "radical" Berkeley, California City Council, Veronza served as his body guard. This letter, however, as well as numerous appeals to Dellums by Monty Levenson went unanswered.)

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

Veronza was finally granted relief by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1993 which agreed with his challenge of the Parole Commission's decision. The Ninth Circuit determined that the Parole Commission, in denying parole, had improperly 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 case to the Parole Commission to recompute his parole eligibility without consideration of the unsubstantiated allegation.

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

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

Since that time, Veronza's long-time attorney and staunch advocate, Mr. Curtis Crawford (President of the National Parole Commission) passed away. Neoma Kenwood ceased working with the California Appellate Project and Veronza was left without legal counsel.

Through the intervention of Monty Levenson and with the aid of attorneys Bryan Gaynor and First-Amerndment specialist Ron Sineway, Veronza's situation was brought to the attention of a very prominent former President of the American Defense Lawyers Association. After careful review, this attorney declined to take on the case as he considered the Parole Commission's intransigence to be largely political rather than based on legal merit. For this reason, he felt powerless to effectively challenge its decision in a court of law. It had clearly been decided in high places that 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 assistance in the parole matter of Veronza Bowers, Jr., a former Black Panther who has been imprisoned in the federal system since April of 1974. I have been referred to your office by Bob Robideau, of the American Indian Movement, who you may recall from your efforts on behalf of Leonard Peltier. Bob and his wife Paulette d'Auteuil became involved in Veronza's case in 1979. Veronza has received strong support from the American Indian Movement and is an honorary member of the Tribe of Five Feathers.

In April of 1974, Mr. Bowers was sentenced in San Francisco District Court to a life term for the killing of a federal park ranger. At the time of his prosecution and trial, he was a Black Panther although he had suffered a falling out with Black Panther Huey Newton. Veronza maintains that he is not guilty of the crime, and had been set up by both the FBI and certain factions within the Panther party.

Even though Veronza, to this day, maintains his innocence, that is not the focus of our current efforts. Those of us working on Veronza's behalf are attempting to gain his release through parole. The following is a summary of those efforts and Veronza's treatment by the United States Parole Commission. In sum, although Veronza has served almost 20 years in prison and the guidelines applied by the Commission call for the service of only nine (9) years, the Parole Commission has ordered him to serve the maximum permitted by law, 30 years, despite a recent federal 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 of his considerable achievements in prison from other federal prisoners. As a criminal defense attorney, I was originally wary of the sincerity of Mr. Bowers' actions. However, over the past ten (10) years, I have become convinced of the sincerity of his actions, as well as the extraordinary nature of the man himself. Veronza's spirit, as well as his achievements, have spurred volunteer efforts by many people, including myself, to gain his freedom.

Mr. Bowers became eligible for parole on December 6, 1983, after serving ten (10) years. In November of that year, Mr. Bowers was given his initial parole hearing by the United States Parole Commission. Although he was eligible for parole and received the best possible parole prognosis score, 1D, [1], he was not given any parole consideration but was, instead, ordered to continue to a ten-year reconsideration hearing in November 1993.

From December, 1984 to July of 1993, I appealed the Parole Commission's denial of parole on the basis that its decision violated due process, as well as the Commission's own rules and regulations. After filing administrative appeals with the United States Parole Commission, I filed a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Finally, on July 1, 1993, Veronza was granted relief by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit determined that the Parole Commission, in denying parole, had improperly (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 remand Veronza's case to the Parole Commission to recompute his parole eligibility absent consideration of the unsubstantiated allegation.

On July 21, 1993, Veronza was given his 10-year reconsideration hearing by the Parole Commission. Although the district court had not yet issued its remand order on the basis of the Ninth Circuit decision, the attorney representing Veronza before the Parole examiners, Curtis Crawford of St. Louis, Missouri, informed them of the Ninth Cirucit decision and handed them a copy of it. Nonetheless, on August 10, 1993, the Parole Commission rendered a decision ignoring the Ninth Circuit's mandate. The decision made no mention of the Ninth Circuit decision and made no change in the parole decision itself. It simply ordered, "No change in continue to expiration." In plain English, this decision continued Veronza beyond the applicable parole guideline period until his mandatory release date of April 26, 2004. [2] No reasons were given to explain the action other than a statement that no regulatory or procedural changes had been made by the Parole Commission since the last hearing which would positively affect his case.

Meanwhile, on August 25, 1993, the federal district court issued a directive, remanding Veronza's case to the Parole Commission and ordering the Commission to recompute his parole eligibility absent consideration of the unfounded allegation mentioned above. In response to that order, the Parole Commission gave Veronza another hearing at U.S.P. Terre Haute on November 2, 1993. At that hearing, the panel examiners recommended that Veronza's case be referred to the National Parole Commissioners as an original jurisdiction case [3] and further recommended that he be paroled after the service of 300 months. At the time of the hearing, Veronza had already served 235 months, so the two hearing examiners were recommending a parole date of December 19, 1998, after the service of an additional five (5) years.

Last Friday, January 7, we received another Notice of Action from the Parole Commission. This notice once again ordered Veronza to continue to his mandatory release date, April 26, 2004. The notice stated that the parole guidelines established by the Commission call for the service of 108+ months in Veronza's case but that a decision above the guidelines was warranted because his "offense behavior of homicide was premeditated." This notice, too, made no mention of the Ninth Circuit's court order nor gave any indication that it was responding to or complying with the Court's directive. It provided that it was an original jurisdiction decision and was appealable to the National Commission.

In sum, despite all of our efforts on Veronza's behalf, a multitude of letters of support from community, friends and family, several commendations by prison staff, and an 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 his maximum release date. Although his guidelines, as computed by the Commission itself, call for the service of 9 years, the Commission has ordered him to serve the maximum allowed under the law -- 30 years.

Veronza is going to appeal the Regional decision to the National Commissioners. This is essentially our last opportunity to gain Veronza's release for, to be frank, I do not think further court action is a viable alternate given the Parole Commission's discretion and the Courts' general reluctance to intervene in the Commission's business. And, an appeal to the National Commissioners is the last possible appeal within the Parole Commission itself.

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

I ask whether you could do the same by providing a letter in support of Veronza's release. A letter from you to the Parole Commission could have considerable influence on its decision. To aid your decision in this matter, I enclose a packet of information about Veronza, including an excerpt from a 1991 parole appeal (and its attachments) which I prepared in Veronza's behalf. The excerpt provides a summary of some of the facts about Veronza's activities in prison which present compelling reasons for his release.

In sum, we have emphasized the following factors in urging the Commission to release Veronza into the community:
a) his superior program achievement in prison (educational--community college associates art degree, college courses; vocational);
b) his exemplary institutional conduct during the last ten years (including a commendation for intervening in a volatile prison situation where he saved guards from assault and possible homicide);
c) his activities in prison as a musician and therapist (using music therapy, accupressure, and therapy message to help other inmates);
d) his prison spiritual activities (as an honorary member of the Tribe of Five Feathers and member of the Spiritual and Cultural Council of Native Nations);
e) the active support of prison staff for his release (including the strong recommendation for parole by USP Terre Haute Unit Manager King, who had never before represented an inmate at a parole hearing and told the Commission that he was departing from that pratice in doing so in Veronza's case);
f) Veronza's considerable family and community support including the 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 letters of support provided to the Parole Commission in preparation for Veronza's last parole hearing (as I was not actively involved in that preparation) and so I cannot provide such copies for your review. I do, however, provide copies of my last two letters to the Parole Commission which 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 a sufficient picture of Veronza Bowers to enable you to act and that you are able to help us seek his release. If you are able to 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 letters in support must be received no later than February 9, 1994. I would appreciate if a copy of the letter could be sent to my office at the above-stated address.

If I can provide any more information or 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 factor score of "10." This score, which is used by the Parole Commission to determine an inmate's parole prognosis, can range from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest possible score. The score is 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's guidelines, a prisoner serving a life sentence must be released after the service of thirty (30) years.

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