Jacqueline E. Jones, one of two women claiming to be the widow of a man killed by Prince George's County police, told a federal jury she still remembers the exact night 19 years ago when she and the man attempted to run away from their Ohio hometown and get married in West Virginia.
It was memorable, Jones had told friends, because it was the first time she and William C. Harris were "intimate" and because it was the same date that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated -- Nov. 22, 1963.
It was also memorable, Jones testified, because she and Harris were turned back in their effort to find a roadside justice of the peace in West Virginia by a severe snowstorm.
"I remember the windshield wipers going back and forth . . . and the snow coming down so fast [that the wipers couldn't keep up]," she said.
But attorneys representing the other woman claiming to be Harris' legal wife found a hitch in Jones' testimony: It didn't snow in Ohio or West Virginia on Nov. 22, 1963.
A professional meteorologist cited official National Weather Service statistics showing that no measurable snowfall was recorded at any of the dozens of weather stations throughout both states on either Nov. 21 or Nov. 22, 1963.
Not only that, said meteorologist Sol Hirsch, but it was unseasonably warm during that two-day period for that time of year -- the temperature in Youngstown, Ohio, where the couple had started on their ill-fated trip, ranged from 40 to 62 degrees.
Jones, visibly flustered, returned to the witness stand to rebut Hirsch, saying at one point, "I am totally confused," and "I must have been wrong on the date."
Her attorney, Barnet D. Skolnik, noted that substantial snowfalls occurred earlier and later in November 1963, but Jones acknowledged under cross-examination that she associated the snowstorm with the Kennedy assassination date.
The snowstorm testimony has become crucial in attempts to discredit Jones by a second woman, Betty Ann Harris of Sharon, Pa., who also claims to be Harris' widow.
The two women are vying for part of a $9 million civil lawsuit in federal court here in which they contend that Harris was wrongfully shot and killed by Prince George's police on Nov. 26, 1967, during a series of robberies set up by a so-called "death squad."
A six-member jury empaneled three weeks ago is pondering the issue of the lawful widow. After that, it will hear testimony on the wrongful death issue.
Jones contends she and Harris entered into a common-law marriage in late 1963 after they failed to obtain a civil marriage in West Virginia.
She and several supporting witnesses testified that she and Harris agreed to live together as husband and wife in Youngstown and were perceived as such in the general community -- all requirements of common-law marriage in Ohio.
Betty Ann Harris contends the marriage was bogus and that William Harris lived as a bachelor, spending much of his time with other women.
In 1965, Betty Ann Harris married William Harris in formal civil and religious ceremonies. She contends her marriage supercedes Jones' common-law claim.