A Rockingham County political activist has recently been charged with 33 counts of theft, fraud, and forgery. Less than 24 hours ago, James Madison University’s newspaper, The Breeze, first introduced to this story to the public in an article entitled “Student impersonator charged with credit card fraud”. According to that piece, Andrew Jones, 18, of Broadway had allegedly stolen a handful of credit cards from JMU students and used these cards to purchase several thousands of dollars in assorted items. Furthermore, the article states that JMU Police Investigator Doyle Hess tells us that Andrew has admitted using the cards. Seems like a fairly routine open and shut type of case doesn’t it?
Ah, but that is where our tale takes a rather interesting turn. Shortly after this story broke, hburgnews.com offered readers additional information, much of which was provided by Jones himself. In this rendition, Jones stated that several members of the JMU College Republican community accuse him solely due to his homosexually. Furthermore, Andrew claims to have knowledge and involvement regarding voter fraud in regard to some unspecified election. Regrettably, these newest claims have spilled blood into the water, evoking an intense feeding frenzy and wild speculations from other local political activists on the hburgnews website. As a result, I felt compelled to write about this matter.
Disappointingly, these new allegations have muddled an otherwise clear story. The central issue at hand is whether or not Andrew Jones stole and used other people’s credit cards, not tales of corruption and discrimination. Now is voter fraud a serious accusation? Of course! But such a claim merely distracts from the more pressing matter. Even though admittedly much smaller in nature, this case is quickly shaping up to be like Harrisonburg’s political version of the O.J. Simpson
circus trial. Rather than focusing on the guilt or innocence of the person in question, our attention is drawn elsewhere. We must not get caught up in this hoopla. Regardless of these secondary issues, if Andrew is innocent, he must be cleared of all charges. If, on the other hand, he is guilty, he must be punished according to the law. Then, only once that central topic is dealt with, should we consider these other troubling matters.
Unfortunately or not, depending on your perspective, I believe the appearance of these red herrings will only serve to weaken his argument of innocence. His bizarrely disappearing and reappearing Facebook account doesn’t do him any favors either. Although gone now, his post telling friends not to worry due to a supposedly close friendship with the Commonwealth Attorney does much to discredit the possibility of a fair and impartial trial. And the line, “I thought when they arrested me it was for voter fraud. I was shocked to find out that wasn’t [the reason]” is very disturbing. More or less admitting complicity regarding voter fraud to a media source is a damning self-accusation in and of itself.
My words of warning to local political activists of all stripes are as follows: Just because Andrew Jones happens to be Republican, that fact alone should not color your viewpoint either for him or against him. His claims of fraud and discrimination might be completely true or they might be desperate attempts to deflect blame and attention. I don’t wish to convict an innocent person nor do I want to see a guilty person vindicated. Fortunately, neither you nor I are currently the judge or the jury, so the court of public opinion holds little value. These central charges of theft, fraud, and forgery must be resolved first. I’m glad that we live in a country where we have the opportunity to offer either support or condemnation to the accused, but never let politics get in the way of justice.