At least 37 people in Washington, D.C., and Maryland have been killed since 2004 for cooperating with law enforcement or out of fear that they might, found a Washington Post examination of hundreds of police and court records. In jurisdictions where homicides can be tough to prosecute even when witnesses to crimes cooperate, the killing of those witnesses has made it more difficult to bring criminals to justice, often resulting in violent offenders remaining on the streets. The slayings of seven witnesses or potential witnesses remain unsolved. The Post's review found that among those killed for cooperating with authorities or out of fear that they might, at least 19 didn't receive protection, including a confidential informant working for the Drug Enforcement Administration who was lured to a home by a drug dealer's girlfriend and then fatally shot by the dealer.
At least five were killed after defense attorneys learned their names or other identifying information and told their clients. In one case, a lawyer tipped off a defendant that prosecutors wanted to interview the witness. Six days later, the witness was found dead. Nine were offered protection but declined, including a Baltimore County man who was unaware of the long criminal history, including murder, attempted murder and firearms charges, of the man he was scheduled to testify against. Local and federal agencies offer witnesses relocation and protection services. Shielding them from harm becomes difficult when they don’t follow the rules. “When you get assistance, you're given instructions,” said Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District. “The number one thing is you've got to stay out of the area.”