[Ppnews] New hearing for Verona Bowers in ranger killing

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Sep 3 10:31:28 EDT 2011

New hearing for Verona Bowers in ranger killing

Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A federal appeals court says a biased U.S. parole commissioner, a 
onetime aide to President George W. Bush, worked behind the scenes in 
2005 to thwart the release of a former Black Panther convicted of 
murdering a park ranger at Point Reyes in 1973.

But, despite finding that Commissioner Deborah Spagnoli's misconduct 
had tainted the Parole Commission's 11th-hour decision to keep 
Veronza Bowers in prison, the court last month did not order his 
release. Instead, it ordered a new hearing before a commission that 
is much the same as the one that ruled against him, except for a 
successor to Spagnoli, who resigned in 2007.

"We believe Bowers will receive a fair and impartial hearing" when 
the remaining members reconsider his case, said the 11th U.S. Circuit 
Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where Bowers is imprisoned. The 3-0 
ruling was issued Aug. 26.

Bowers' lawyers are concerned about the commission's ability "to 
address the case fairly and impartially, given its track record," 
Charles Weisselberg, a UC Berkeley law professor and an attorney for 
the inmate, said Friday.

"But we're very grateful that Mr. Bowers has another opportunity for 
release," he added.

Bowers of Mill Valley was convicted of fatally shooting Kenneth 
Patrick, 40, who stopped a car of suspected bow-and-arrow deer 
poachers in a remote area of the Point Reyes National Seashore in August 1973.

Patrick was the first federal ranger killed on the job in California. 
Bowers said he had been at home at the time and has continued to 
maintain his innocence, but he was identified as the gunman by a 
witness who said he had been in the car.

He was sentenced to life in prison in 1974 under rules that required 
release on parole after 30 years unless the inmate was shown to be 
dangerous or had seriously violated prison regulations. Current law 
bars parole for federal prisoners sentenced since mid-1984.

Bowers tried to escape from prison in 1979. But as his 30-year date 
approached in 2004, a hearing officer cited his spotless record for 
the past 15 years and found he was unlikely to re-offend.

A few days before his scheduled parole in February 2005, Spagnoli and 
another commissioner moved to reopen the case. The commission's 2-2 
split still would have allowed Bowers' release, but Spagnoli, a 2003 
Bush appointee, then asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to 
intervene, the court said.

Commissioners reopened the case again, at Gonzales' request, and 
voted 4-0 to deny parole in June 2005, citing the escape attempt and 
Bowers' insistence that he was an innocent political prisoner, which 
the commission said showed his attitude hadn't changed since the time 
of the murder.

The court said a document uncovered in 2007 showed that Spagnoli had 
written a one-sided memo to a Gonzales deputy outlining arguments 
against Bowers. After the final vote, the court said, she sent an 
e-mail to a Justice Department official that said simply "Victory."

Spagnoli "took on an advocate's role," violating her duty of 
neutrality, the court said. It said her actions also breached the 
commission's obligation to act as an independent agency, 
"impermissibly tainting the Parole Commission's decision to reopen" the case.

The court told the commission to reconsider the case as it stood in 
May 2005, before the vote denying parole. The current commissioners 
include two who took part in that vote, one who disqualified himself 
from the case, and a new member appointed by President 

E-mail Bob Egelko at 
<http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/09/03/mailto:begelko@sfchronicle.com>begelko at sfchronicle.com.


This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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