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Curbing The Violence: Federal Program Aims To Get More Witnesses Talking

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Witnesses of crimes in Baltimore–threatened, injured, some even killed.

Now there’s a new nationwide push to give more protection to witnesses, so prosecutors can put criminals behind bars.

Meghan McCorkell explains under that new proposal, the federal government would provide grant money to state and local governments to protect witnesses so they’ll testify.

Capone Chase, once Baltimore’s “Public Enemy No. 1,” is accused of shooting a man execution style 48 hours after he was released from jail on a suspended sentence in a robbery case.

“We had substantial issues involving the witnesses in that case,” said Gregg Bernstein, City State’s Attorney.

Community members say that’s because witnesses don’t feel safe.

“When somebody come up and say, ‘Yeah, he shot at me. Whatever.’ What are you all doing then to protect them? You see it’s not working,” a woman said.

“Witness intimidation is very strong in the city,” said Marge Shipley.

Shipley understands why people are reluctant to testify. Her son, Carl Lackl–a witness in a 2006 murder case–was gunned down before he took the stand.

“They’ve got to give these people confidence that to testify doesn’t mean you’re going to be in the ground two weeks later,” she said.

Senator Ben Cardin–trying to increase the confidence–is proposing a federal grant program to provide more funding to keep witnesses safe.

“We want the federal government to work with local law enforcement to provide help so that we can protect witnesses,” Cardin said.

The new program would establish a short-term protection program for witnesses of murders, violent crimes, drug and gang offenses.

“If you’ve been victimized, you have a right to expect that we will help you. And we need your cooperation,” said Cardin.

Cooperation that could put more violent repeat offenders behind bars.

Representative Elijah Cummings is co-sponsoring the bill. In a statement, he says: “Without witnesses, the wheels of justice will come to a screeching halt.”

The Witness Security Protection Grant Program Act would provide $150 million over the next five years to local governments across the country.

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