Stop-`snitching' graffiti mar a wall of 1st Mariner Arena

Writing names witness, angers city prosecutor

February 01, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The graffiti yesterday on Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena read like an advertisement for Stop Snitching, a locally produced DVD that warns that people who witness crimes and cooperate with authorities - "rats" - will not be tolerated.

Scrawled in permanent black marker on the Baltimore Street side of the arena, the chest-high, 2-foot-tall passage said: "Stop [expletive] snitching. There a snitch name Juicey aka Tyrone Knox. Rat on whelles."

Knox, 21, testified last month against a co-defendant in a stomping death from June 2003 in Waverly. Assistant State's Attorney Cynthia M. Banks, who handled Knox's plea arrangement and prosecuted David Bell, one of the men he identified, said she was outraged to learn of the graffiti.

"This kind of thing makes my nights sleepless," Banks said. "I don't know how far to push a witness anymore. I don't know how we protect the witnesses. I am just at a loss as to what to do."

Baltimore prosecutors said the graffiti are yet another reminder of how bold witness intimidation in the city has become. They also pointed to the Stop Snitching DVD, popularized by the brief appearance of NBA star and Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony, as a sign of what Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy calls a "conspiracy of silence."

Both the graffiti and the DVD use profanity and street language to convey their message. In one freestyle-rap scene on the two-hour documentary, a man flashes a gun and threatens to destroy the home of anyone who gives evidence to police. The back cover of the DVD features what appear to be three dead bodies above the phrase "snitch prevention."

Jessamy said witness intimidation pervades nearly all of her office's homicide cases. And in his State of the City address yesterday, Mayor Martin O'Malley identified witness intimidation as a major public safety issue.

At least three witness intimidation bills are being considered by the General Assembly. Jessamy and O'Malley have said they support a measure proposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that would permit some statements by intimidated witnesses to be used in court even if the witnesses are not present. The bill also would increase the maximum penalty for witness intimidation to 20 years in prison.

However, prosecutors said it would be difficult to charge whoever wrote the graffiti with witness intimidation.

The graffiti had been removed by 2 p.m., arena officials said.

"This can't be tolerated," said Edwin F. Hale Sr., chairman of 1st Mariner Bank, who owns the Baltimore Blast soccer team that plays in the arena. "It's unbelievable. I just don't understand it."

Knox has been identified in public documents as a witness since June, and his name was displayed on the arena wall for at least six hours yesterday. Prosecutors said they were unsure what the "whelles" reference in the graffiti meant.

Banks said there were no signs of intimidation during Bell's trial, and she questioned why the graffiti appeared now, after Knox has testified. "Is it retaliation?" she asked. She said she didn't know what the intended effect of the message was, but she said Knox's mother, whom she called yesterday, was frightened by it. (Knox was behind bars at the city jail yesterday on a new charge.)

"There's a DVD out there," Banks said. "There are past instances of witnesses being harmed. If you put my name out there on a wall, I'd certainly be scared."

Banks said Knox might have been identified as a snitch because he became a "cooperative co-defendant" in the June 2003 murder case. He agreed to testify against two people he named as participants in the stomping death of Linwood Jones Jr. during a fight on Melville Avenue. Defense attorneys said he also named a half-dozen other people from the neighborhood who never were charged.

The death stemmed from a fight that began when Jones went to the Melville Avenue home of a man to confront him about an "interaction" with Jones' teenage son, according to the police report.

Jones fought with the man, who stumbled onto his porch and yelled for help, the report says. Knox testified that he and several other men, including Bell, rushed to the man's aid. Knox said they all began beating and kicking Jones and, when he fell to the pavement, stomped him until he stopped moving. The comatose Jones died a week later.

Banks said Knox was cooperative "throughout the process" and willingly testified against Bell. Charges against a second man Knox named were dropped because of a lack of evidence, Banks said.

As part of his plea arrangement, Knox pleaded guilty in June to second-degree assault and was sentenced Jan. 21 to a 10-year suspended sentence. First-degree assault and murder charges were dismissed.

After listening to Knox's testimony and other evidence, Circuit Judge Wanda K. Heard convicted Bell in a bench trial Jan. 13 of second-degree assault and acquitted him of first-degree assault and murder charges. He is to be sentenced Feb. 17.

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