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October 14, 2013

"Hamilton County witness intimidation is increasing: Justice in jeopardy as prosecutors struggle for testimony from eye witnesses"

Especially because our conversation in class today focused on some of the proof and procedure realities that necessarily attend real-world efforts to prove up the key facts in real-world cases, I thought it useful to highlight this recent Cincinnati Enquirer article with the same headline as the title of this post. Here are excerpts:

Dante Williams shot and killed Adrian Battle in 2006, a crime that went unsolved for seven years because witnesses were terrified of being shot themselves.

In 2011, Joe Harris was convicted of murder – but only after Hamilton County prosecutors jailed a star witness to ensure the frightened man would testify.

In another case, a witness was so scared of being perceived as cooperative that he told prosecutors he would testify only if he was handcuffed and brought to the courthouse in a police cruiser so it would look like he wasn’t cooperating.

These cases are symptomatic of a problem Hamilton County prosecutors say is growing: the number of witnesses too frightened to testify. That, they say, makes it harder for prosecutors to win convictions and easier for some violent crimes to go unpunished – and possibly jeopardizes justice....

The killing of Battle and resulting murder case against Williams ended in June. Instead of a murder conviction and sentence of life in prison, Williams pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and received the minimum sentence possible – three years in prison for killing Battle and one for using a gun. The four-year prison sentence was a victory for Prem because Williams was ultimately punished in a case in which an uncooperative witness meant a very weak case for prosecutors. “Had more people been available as witnesses, we may have been able to convict him of more serious crimes,” Prem said. “If we don’t have witnesses, we can’t prove cases.”...

The issue in prosecuting Williams was the star witness, a pregnant woman who saw the shooting, who was too afraid to testify. She and other witnesses in that case were so scared, Prem said, that he believed the best he could do was offer a plea bargain with the minimum prison sentence or face losing the case. “If you read in the paper that someone charged with murder gets (four) years, there’s a good reason for it,” Prem said. Prem, a veteran prosecutor who has tried scores of murder cases, often warns jurors of the common adage of the street: “Snitches get stitches and wind up in ditches.”

October 14, 2013 in Notable real cases, Reflections on class readings | Permalink

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Comments

This is the sad reality after generations of African-Americans have been targeted, abused, and killed by police. It probably happens less today than any time in living memory, but the legacy dies hard. Cincinnati has its own unique troubled history in this regard, but that city is hardly alone.

Posted by: Ben Wallace | Oct 15, 2013 10:06:34 PM

It seems a vicious cycle. Witness scared to testify, criminal get less punishment, people feel less securer, more scared of criminals, and witness become more scared to testify.
In the show CSI, the characters can always find out many circumstantial evidence that is sufficient to convict criminal(or prove someone is innocent). However, I believe it is not the reality. Most of the time, prosecutors need to rely on testimony, which is easier and cheaper to get (I mean it does not require advanced technology to get a testimony)and more direct to show what had happened. Even though we know sometimes witness lies, it is still very important.
I guess the witnesses who refuse to testify on court also want to put the criminal in jail for a longer time. Maybe they just image that prosecutor can make it without their testimony, which is of course, not true.

Posted by: Di Zeng | Oct 16, 2013 4:41:36 PM

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