The girlfriend of a defendant in an attempted-murder case knocked on the door of a teenage witness and, according to police, delivered this message to his father: The boy is going to "get it" for "snitching on my family."
A day later, police said, the brother of a co-defendant in the case stopped the witness' father in a neighborhood store and said that if the boy "thinks he's going to show up in court, he'll be dead before that."
Amanda Johnson, 23, and Clyde Meadows, 26, are the first in Baltimore to be charged under a revised law that went into effect this month. Witness intimidation is now a felony that carries a possible 20-year prison sentence -- a much more serious crime than it was before Oct. 1, when it was a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of five years.
The changed law also means that the attempts at intimidation might help prosecutors use the teenage witness' statements in the attempted-murder case even if he doesn't show up to testify.
Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy pushed for those changes -- and more -- in the last legislative session of the General Assembly. She testified about numerous homicides and shooting cases that she said were affected by witness intimidation scenarios, which were similar to the accusations against Johnson and Meadows.
Her call to increase the penalty for witness intimidation came on the heels of a homemade DVD that was distributed on the streets of Baltimore last year. Called Stop Snitching, it featured NBA star Carmelo Anthony and carried the message that cooperating with authorities is dishonorable and dangerous.
Prosecutors said yesterday that the case will be a test of how the most-disputed part of the law called the "hearsay exception" will play out in court and whether judges will be willing to impose lengthy prison sentences for a crime that used to be a misdemeanor. Jessamy declined to comment because the case is pending.
Police say the two exchanges took place last week in the North Baltimore neighborhood of Remington.
Meadows was ordered held without bail yesterday by District Judge Timothy J. Doory, who said in court that witness intimidation "strikes at the heart of the criminal justice system." Johnson was free yesterday after posting a $250,000 bail set by a court commissioner.
Defense attorneys said their clients have been wrongly accused. Christie Pierce Needleman, Meadows' attorney, said the witness claiming to have been threatened is a juvenile delinquent who is sentenced to home detention. Also, Needleman said, the boy's father has a drug problem and told Meadows that he would ask his son not to testify in exchange for $1,000.
Needleman said she was not sure how the legal changes would affect her client. She said that while she understood the political need for the law, her experience has been that witnesses don't come to court because they don't want to become involved in the legal process, not because they are intimidated.
Prosecutors confirmed that the witness is on home detention for an unrelated crime. Police said the teenager, whom The Sun is not naming because he is now in protective custody, identified Timothy Meadows and Kenneth George as the men who shot 21-year-old Paige Boyd during an argument June 25 on Miles Avenue in Remington. Meadows and George were arrested in August.
Meadows, who is accused of being the shooter, was charged with attempted first-degree murder, and George was charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Their trial is set for Dec. 9 in Baltimore Circuit Court.
The defendants learned the witness' identity Oct. 6 when prosecutors disclosed photograph lineups he had signed. Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, said prosecutors did not seal the witness' name because they had no reason to suspect he was in danger.
About a week after the photos were turned over to the defense, police said, a woman went to the witness' home. According to charging documents, when the father answered, the woman asked him, "Why are you snitching on my family?" She showed him the photo arrays as she left and said his son "is going to get it before court."
A day later, a man approached the father at a local store and made another threat on his son's life.
Needleman said the Meadows family has a different story. During the bail review hearing yesterday, she said Clyde Meadows "is not particularly close to his brother" and had "no idea" that the teenager was a witness in the attempted murder case until the father approached him and asked for money in exchange for convincing his son not to go to court.
Under the new legislation, it's possible that the witness in the case, if prosecutors can prove he was intimidated, may not have to testify. The law's "hearsay exception" means that, with a judge's approval after a hearing, prosecutors can use recorded statements or prior testimony in place of a threatened witness who doesn't show up on the day of the trial.