For two years, Reginald Roe was the sole witness prosecutors were relying on in an ambush gang killing in a Newark parking lot here, having picked two men's pictures out of a photo array and sworn before a grand jury: “I saw everything. I was there,” says the New York Times. When the case came to trial, with a phalanx of gang members glaring at him in court, Roe changed his story, testifying that he had heard the shots but never saw who fired them. The two suspects were acquitted.
Now Roe is the criminal defendant. Charged with making a false statement, he is Exhibit A in law enforcement's increasingly desperate war on witness intimidation in cities plagued by gang violence. His is one of a small but growing cadre of cases nationally in which angry and frustrated prosecutors are turning the tables on witnesses who recant. “Without reliable witnesses, a criminal justice system just can't function,” said Paula Dow, the Essex County, N.J., prosecutor. “So the public has to know that for us to help them, they have to be willing to testify. And if they testify untruthfully, there will be consequences.”