CINCINNATI – Prosecutors have increased efforts to press charges in suspected cases of witness intimidation and retaliation since a witness-protection program was eliminated earlier this year due to the tough economy.
Hamilton County had spent about $30,000 over the past four years to help witnesses who had been threatened move to another neighborhood or to stay in a hotel.
“It`s becoming quite frightening for people to cooperate with authorities,” said Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters. “It`s a big issue, and it`s becoming bigger every day.”
Last week, there were four murder cases in county courts in which witnesses or victims were intimidated and were reluctant to testify or changed their testimony after being threatened, prosecutors said.
Sometimes the threats are vague, maybe nothing more than a nasty look across the courtroom, Deters said. In one case, a woman said “You made the wrong choice” moments after a witness provided testimony that helped convict someone of murder.
“People will have to decide if they want the rule of law or chaos. Once you cower to bullying, it will never be the same,” Deters said. “The situation has gotten much worse in the last three or four years.”
Deters` office pressed intimidation charges against 48 people last year, compared with 29 in 2004. He and other prosecutors say the Internet, with sites that are devoted to identifying witnesses who cooperate with police, is partly to blame for the “anti-snitching” movement.
“If I get an indication that someone is using a Web site to intimidate a witness, I`ll go after them,” Deters said.