Playing with fire

February 10, 2006

Gangbangers, take note: Trying to firebomb witnesses into silence can get you locked up for the rest of your life.

The hefty sentences against two Baltimore men convicted of tossing Molotov cocktails at the home of a community activist who complained about neighborhood drug dealers show the benefit of prosecuting some witness intimidation cases in federal court. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz sentenced Nakie Harris, 30, to 84 years and Richard Royal, 21, to 60 years in prison, sending an unmistakable message about the seriousness of this crime.

It's a message that can't be repeated enough. Not today and not in this town.

A decade ago, there would have been little reason to try this case in federal court. But since then, a couple and their five children were killed in a rowhouse fire in retaliation for reporting drug dealers to police, an 11-year-old witness was targeted, and a bootleg "Stop Snitching" video hit Baltimore's streets. Witness intimidation has frustrated efforts of the city state's attorney's office to win cases.

But the Harwood firebombing case illustrates the benefit of a good working relationship between city prosecutors and the U.S. attorney's office: a chance to get menacing criminals with past records and gang involvement off the streets for a long time.

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