In Colorado, at least 16 witnesses and associates have been murdered since the state created a fund to protect the lives of witnesses, the Denver Post reports. In most cases, threats preceded the murders. Some witnesses repeatedly reported those threats to police and prosecutors. A Post computer analysis found that since 1998, Colorado prosecutors have filed more than 2,000 felony cases of crimes against witnesses – crimes ranging from harassment and witness tampering to arson and murder. Witnesses have been kidnapped, raped, and shot.
In a typical year, the state’s judicial districts spend less to protect the lives of witnesses than Denver spends to plant flowers. Many witnesses say that even after they survived a murder attempt, nobody offered protection. Some have moved thousands of miles away at their own expense. Others have invested in handguns and alarm systems and rehearsed shootout scenes with their children. To this day, the father of a witness from a 2001 case still won’t allow his children into the car until after he has started it alone. The U.S. Marshals Service has $38 million this year to assist 17,500 witnesses and family members. In state courts, witnesses are on their own. A handful of states budget $500,000 or more for comprehensive witness- protection programs. Most states spend nothing to protect witnesses. The rest are like Colorado: a program exists but has a budget of just $50,000, is little-used and may offer little more than a bus ticket or a security deposit for a new apartment.