A mother of three went out for cigarettes last summer and ended up in Philadelphia’s witness-relocation program after her teenage cousin was shot to death right before her eyes. The Philadelphia Inquirer says she has adjusted to a new life away from the city and says she will never return – except to testify. Another woman, Barbara Clowden, and her family entered the witness-relocation program after her 16-year-old son saw a man try to torch their house. They stayed in Philadelphia, and the boy was killed before he could finish testifying against the alleged arsonist. “They felt like it was safer to move my family from one part of the city to another, and that cost my son’s life,” says Clowden, who has pleaded with city officials to help her family leave.
The local witness-relocation program is a modest effort compared with the federal Witness Security Program, which moves witnesses far away and gives them new identities. Philadelphia’s program, administered by the District Attorney’s Office, relocated 73 families last year. The city used more than half a statewide budget of $1 million that District Attorney Lynne Abraham has been fighting to preserve. Law enforcement officials in other places also are worried. Last month, New Jersey’s witness-assistance program exhausted its meager $100,000 budget, alarming urban prosecutors. In Baltimore, State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy says witness intimidation figures in 90 percent of her homicide cases. Bills to provide federal support for state and local witness programs are pending in Congress.