Officials seek U.S. funds to protect witnesses

July 18, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,sun reporter

Stephen Arrington, a witness to a city homicide, was shot in the back. Carl Stanley Lackl witnessed a fatal shooting - and then he was shot to death. John Dowery was to testify in a murder case. He survived one shooting, but not the second.

Baltimore prosecutors can produce a long list of witnesses who have been intimidated, injured or killed. Yesterday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy announced that they are seeking federal help to protect witnesses.

"People are tired," Cummings said. "They are tired of seeing their loved ones harmed. And when it comes time to gather the evidence, nobody saw it because everybody's scared."

He said he is proposing a bill called the Witness Security and Protection Act, which would provide $90 million in federal money to local jurisdictions over three years.

Jessamy said she wants to make her federal assistance program, which moves scared witnesses temporarily from one city neighborhood to another, more like the federal witness protection program.

To do that, she said, she needs "people with guns and badges" to provide security. In the past, she has asked the Maryland State Police to help her develop a witness protection program, but she said they did not commit to it.

Now, she and Cummings said, they are asking for U.S. marshals to provide that support. Both said they have recently implored Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to help.

A call yesterday to Gonzales' office was not returned.

Jessamy called witness intimidation a national problem. People across the country, particularly in places such as Baltimore, Detroit and other cities struggling with high homicide numbers, "are sick and tired of having the thugs think they're in charge," she said.

Arrington's accused attacker, Myron Gladney, was convicted yesterday of attempted murder and witness intimidation. Arrington took the witness stand in that case - and in the original homicide he witnessed. The defendant in the murder trial, Anthony Gladney, Myron's brother, was acquitted.

A 15-year-old and a 21-year-old have been arrested in Lackl's death, but police are still investigating whether the killing is connected to him being a witness.

Several men accused of being involved in a drug ring face federal prosecution in the shooting that Dowery survived, but no charges have been filed in his killing near his home in East Baltimore.

Cummings, a longtime West Baltimore resident, said that while federal expenses like the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan are important, "if you talk to my neighbors, they feel that they have terrorism right here."

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