North Carolina prosecutors increasingly are encountering intimidated witnesses who are reluctant to testify about homicides and other serious crimes in gang-plagued neighborhoods, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. The growing trend could mean dangerous suspects end up on the streets if witnesses cower in fear of retaliation. “If that happens, you reward the most violent and the worst of offenders,” said Colon Willoughby, Wake County’s district attorney. “If you reward them, you can expect more of it.” The difficulties were highlighted during a trial last month. A teenager nicknamed “Murder” was acquitted in the killing of Richard Gus Brown, 74, a church deacon gunned down at his mailbox. Prosecutors brought in a half-dozen teenage witnesses to repeat what they told police months ago, but their court testimony differed from their initial statements on several points.
Karen Scott, a coordinator of victims and witnesses in the Wake District Attorney’s Office, said of the teenage gang population: “I’m more scared of these kids than [of] a 40-year-old who’s been in and out of prison because they [ex-convicts] know how to weigh the consequences.” Until gang-related crimes increased recently, intimidation occurred most often in domestic violence cases, when victims were reluctant to testify against their batterers for fear of retaliation. Over the past five years, 1,748 felony charges of witness intimidation have been filed statewide, but only 174 have resulted in convictions in that period.