Some of the Washington, D.C., area’s most dangerous criminals intimidate witnesses as a part of doing business, reports the Washington Post. They do it on the streets with guns, knives, and threats, and in courtrooms with menacing glares and whispers. The Jan. 23 murder of 14-year-old Jahkema Princess Hansen — a possible witness to a homicide — is the latest prominent example of a common scenario in many rough neighborhoods.
Penalties for intimidation were toughened in Washington in the early 1990s after a series of gang-related witness slayings. Legislation is being introduced in Congress, Maryland, and Virginia to protect more witnesses and to enhance penalties for intimidation. The problem is impossible to quantify because most intimidated witnesses never come forward to complain. “It is true that a witness being outright killed isn’t going to happen every week, but a witness being intimidated, I believe, happens on a virtually daily basis, to varying degrees,” said D.C. Superior Court Judge Noel A. Kramer.
In the District, police offered to relocate 35 witnesses last year. Drug gangs have killed more than two dozen potential informants or witnesses in Washington in the past decade, and U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr. said last fall that witness intimidation was “the biggest problem” his office faced in prosecuting gangs in the city. The office has prosecuted 133 obstruction-of-justice charges in the past five years.