Eric Hayes, Photo from The Philadelphia Inquirer
AIA has put a 4-part Insight series together based on a sequence of articles The Philadelphia Inquirer ran from December 13 – December 16, 2009. In recent Insights, we covered Part 1: Deposit Bail Has Failed Philadelphia and Part 2: Criminals Defy Broken 10% Deposit Bail System. This week, Part 3 explores how witness intimidation is a key factor in returning fugitives to the street. Stay tuned for the final installment and conclusion on how Philadelphia is so drastically affected by a broken bail system.
Witness intimidation on Philadelphia streets has shifted the way trials are run. Intimidation is infused in the Philadelphia criminal courts; there are many no-show witnesses and recanted testimonies which causes cases to collapse. “People are frightened to death,” said District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham. “We’ve had witness after witness intimidated, threatened, frightened.”(1) Prosecutors, detectives and lawyers have said that witness fear has become a factor in almost every court case involving violent crime in Philadelphia. Cases are delayed and dragged on for years, murder charges are reduced, deals are made and cases are then thrown out. Fugitives are put back on the streets and continue to commit crimes that could have been prevented had they been tried and convicted.
“In homicide, it’s routine. It happens all the time,” said Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart, who handles murder cases in Common Pleas Court. “The days of Perry Mason, when someone stands up in court and says, ‘That’s him,’ those days are gone.(1) However, people are being charged and arrested for harming or threatening witnesses and victims in Philadelphia. Alleged drug top dog, Kaboni Savage, was accused in 2009 of organizing seven witness-related murders to protect his multimillion-dollar drug operation. “No witness, no crime,” Savage said in a prison conversation that was secretly recorded by the FBI. “These rats deserve to die…I’m a hunt every last one bitch that I can, and kill ’em.”(1)
Between 2006 and 2008 about 1,000 people were charged with witness intimidation. Of those charged, an astounding 75% walked away un-convicted. The cases are shocking:
Eighteen-year-old Johnta Gravitt was shot point-blank in the stomach in North Philadelphia while sitting on a neighbor’s porch. A week earlier, he had testified as an eyewitness in a preliminary hearing in a murder case. No one has been charged in Gravitt’s slaying. (1)
A stalking victim who pressed charges against her ex-boyfriend was approached by two of his friends, who threatened her with a gun and a knife. “Snitches get stitches.” they sneered. (1)
A man who was duct-taped to a chair and doused with lighter fluid was taunted with lit matches until he falsely confessed to a murder – into a tape recorder held by his tormentors. (1)
Seventeen-year-old Eric Hayes had been in hiding under the city’s witness-relocation program, but months after that protection ran out, he was gunned down at a city bus stop. Hayes’ slaying came days before he was scheduled to testify against someone who had tried to burn down his family’s home in Southwest Philadelphia. The killing remains unsolved. (1)
10% deposit bail has created a brutal playground for criminals. They pay their 10% fee and are released where they return to the streets and continue committing crimes. Fugitives are running loose – and running up bail debt, which is already over $1 billion. The courts do not have the resources to collect the remaining 90% and without any real consequences, criminals regularly skip their court date. There is one source powerful enough to put the criminals back in jail; the witnesses. However, witnesses are scared for their lives. They are given a difficult choice to make: Testify or protect themselves and their loved ones. “That fear, that’s real,” said Jamie Egan, a former city prosecutor. “When people would ask me if I could guarantee their safety, I would say, ‘Unfortunately, I cannot.’” (1)
AIA is committed to public safety and stopping 10% deposit bail. Commercial bail has proven time and again to be the most efficient and cost effective way to insure that defendants appear in courts. If it was reintroduced in Philadelphia, defendants would be held accountable for their actions and many lives would be protected and possibly saved. For more information about the failure of deposit bail across the United States, visit www.depositbailtruth.com to request a copy of AIA’s booklet, “Government Sponsored Deposit Bail: A Failed System.”
(1) Nancy Phillips, Craig R. McCoy, and Dylan Purcell, “Witnesses Fear Reprisals, and Cases Crumble” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 13-16 2009, Part II of “Justice: Delayed Dismissed, Denied.”
Part 3: Witness Intimidation Causes Cases to Collapse