The latest allegations of witness intimidation involve an unusual suspect: A correctional officer at Central Booking whose son is charged with murder.
Rose Marie Peterson, 37, was recently charged with witness intimidation, assault, obstruction of justice and misconduct in office. She is accused of threatening a female detainee who is a witness in the first-degree murder case of Peterson's son, Anthony Dickson.
"You better not show up for court," Peterson told the woman, according to court documents.
Witness intimidation, city prosecutors say, has crippled the criminal justice system by leading witnesses to either not show up to court or to lie if they do testify. Defense attorneys counter that prosecutors have inflated the problem to excuse weak cases.
New law in effect
In October, a new witness-intimidation law went into effect that increased the possible penalties for the crime, reclassifying it from a misdemeanor to a felony, in certain cases, and raising the maximum possible prison term from five to 20 years.
At least 30 people have been charged in Baltimore under the new statute, according to Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office. Burns said prosecutors have encountered at least 25 cases that appear to involve witness intimidation since the beginning of this year.
Prosecutors said they will keep a close eye on the first witness-intimidation case charged under the new law to see whether judges will be willing to impose lengthy prison sentences for a crime that used to be a misdemeanor.
The defendants in that case, Clyde Meadows and Amanda Johnson, are scheduled for trial in Baltimore Circuit Court this month. The allegations against them stem from the shooting in June of a 21-year-old in Remington. Several others have since been charged with witness intimidation in the same underlying attempted-murder case.
In the Peterson case, court documents state that on Jan. 23 she used a jail key to let herself into the cell of a woman she thought to be a witness in her son's murder case. The witness was being held at the city's Central Booking and Intake Center on charges unrelated to the killing.
While "in a confrontational stance," according to the documents, Peterson questioned the witness about her involvement with Dickson's homicide investigation.
Other detainees began to yell, and Peterson eventually left and relocked the cell, the documents show. Two days later, the witness gave police a statement about the incident and identified Peterson as the woman who had confronted her.
"[The witness] advised that she felt threatened by the correctional officer's comments and was in fear of bodily injury if she went to court," an investigator wrote in Peterson's charging documents.
Peterson was charged Jan. 26. She posted $50,000 bail the same day and is scheduled for a District Court trial this month. A Baltimore Circuit Court grand jury could file indictments in the case before then.
Peterson, who became a correctional officer with the division in August, is on administrative leave pending an investigation, said Barbara Cooper, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Pretrial Detention and Services.
Peterson's son is charged with first-degree murder in one of the city's first homicides this year. Court documents show that Ronny Antoine Martin, 16, was shot in the head late New Year's Day in the 2600 block of Marbourne Ave.
According to court documents, several witnesses, whose names are not listed, identified Dickson as the shooter. Court documents give different ages for Dickson, ranging from 18 to 20. He is scheduled for a court appearance this month.