The miracle in Mary Jane Veloso's case
It was a sunny Monday, March 31, when I, with two Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) officers and embassy staffmembers, arrived at Wirogunan Prison. Our entourage arrived at 9 am to question Mary Jane Veloso, a death row convict, about the syndicate that made her arrive in Indonesia with 2 kilograms of heroin. A prosecutor and her lawyer were also there.
Meanwhile, the two National Drug Agency (BNN) officers and I were only to assist the two PDEA persons. We were not to meddle in the case.
I got the order to assist the visit only 3 days before. I said yes, but I was skeptical. Where have they been these past 5 years? Was it only the embassy’s trick to delay her execution?
“Mary Jane is an innocent courier, Jun,” Bimo, a partner in this assignment, told me. He came to that conclusion after reading her files. I was still skeptical.
You can't just label someone an "innocent" courier. More than 50% of couriers we arrested claimed that they know nothing about the drugs. That’s their first defense. They said they were victims so they can escape the harsh punishment waiting.
My skeptical thought was disturbed when a small bubbly woman, around 150 centimeters, came to us. She looked Indonesian. She walked fast towards us, almost running, and then greeted us one by one.
“Who’s this girl?” I asked.
“That’s Mary Jane,” Bimo answered curtly.
I had always imagined her as a typical blonde or red-haired woman. Not this. To my surprise, she also speaks Bahasa Indonesia. The warden said she learned it during her 5 years in the prison.
Mary Jane, it turned out, is the prison’s darling. “I’ve worked here for years, but this is the first time I met a resident as nice as she is. No wonder, every resident and ward love her,” the warden said.
I initially wanted to stay away from the case, but I couldn't help it when my interest grew. I volunteered to translate Bahasa Indonesia to English during the questioning, and the prison officers finally granted me access to the interrogation room.
Yes, she is guilty
Let me analyze it. Whether someone is an innocent courier is up to the judge to decide. Detective and prosecutors can only see with the framework of evidence and leads. She indeed brought, had, and imported drugs to Indonesia. She was caught red-handed.
Whether she deliberately imported the drugs, it can be checked from her travel and communication history, and whether she was a middleman in a drug trade. She was indeed found with US$500 that might be her pay for the job. Mary Jane, in the legal framework, was guilty, regardless whether she knew about the drugs. That’s another matter in the Anti-Narcotics law, but as far as the law enforcer knew, she was guilty.
How she ended up with the death penalty
My concern is how could she end up with a death penalty. I have to admit, I support capital punishment for drug dealers as they might still sell drugs from the prison. But, seeing the evidence and leads, Mary Jane is not one. She’s just a courier.
She only had US$500 with her and nobody could find evidence of any fund transfer. Isn’t the amount too small for a dealer with 2 kg of heroin? No evidence leading to her involvement in the drug trade could be found from her communication and travel history either. I know it was a premature judgment as I only saw it from her explanation. I was not the detective either, so I couldn’t jump into conclusions right away.
A prosecutor, who was involved in Mary Jane’s trial, said that prosecutors believed that she was an innocent courier, but a drug-related crime was a serious issue and it was under the spotlight, so they opted to pursue lifetime imprisonment. The judge, however, sentenced her for death.
I also heard that she got lost in translation during the trials. Once, the judge asked her whether she knew what she did and regrets doing it. She thought the judge was asking “did you do it?” She said no, and that heightened her punishment.
I blame the embassy for not providing a decent lawyer and translator to assist her. I already told them that. How expensive could it be to hire a translator? BNN always allocates 2 million Indonesian rupiah ($155) to hire a translator for foreign suspects. Was IDR 2 million too expensive for the embassy, the Yogyakarta police, and prosecutors? Was it worth her life?
I’m in no place to criticize the verdict. The judges’ legal understanding is better than mine. After all, the decision was taken based on the evidence gathered at that time. The police didn't manage to develop the case against the syndicate and that made Mary Jane a single actor with no other witness to save her. What bothered me is that the law enforcers preferred to uphold the ceremonial aspect of a trial – arrest, prosecute, sentence, get the paycheck, case closed – rather than the truth behind it.
Fiat Justitia Ruat Coelum
Unlike the previous execution, I didn't stay up to see the news on this one. I couldn't stand imagining Mary Jane’s body going down after the trigger is pulled. But miracles exist. I woke up at 5:30 am on Wednesday and read that her execution has been delayed. “Praise the Lord” slipped from my mouth.
Fiat Justitia Ruat Coelum. The law must be upheld, even if the heavens fall. The quote was said by a Roman Governor Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus (43 BC) when he was about to execute a soldier suspected to have killed his two colleagues. The execution was carried out despite the fact the two were not dead and showed up.
You can, of course, support President Joko Widodo saying Fiat Justitia Ruat Coelum for Mary Jane’s case. But, let me remind you, the Guy above has just won the first round. Let’s just see what happens in the next rounds. I still believe that miracles exist. – Rappler.com
This is an English translation of "Mukjizat Mary Jane" published by Rappler Indonesia.
US$1 = IDR12,399
Ade Jun is a former journalist. He now works in the Indonesian law enforcement sector against drugs.