- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer wants the state to withhold the names of witnesses to crimes until trials are held.

“When the names … are released, it makes them vulnerable,” Mrs. Moyer told The Washington Times. “They should be protected.”

Mrs. Moyer said she drafted the resolution asking the General Assembly to mandate that the courts “protect the identification of witnesses prior to trial or juvenile adjudicatory hearing.” She said she did it because of a constituent whose name was aired by the news media as a witness to a murder in a case in which the two suspects were later released.

“The witness was in fear of her life,” Mrs. Moyer said. She was “ready to close her business and leave the area.”

The resolution, which will be presented for a City Council vote Dec. 8, would bar the news media from reporting the names of witnesses, she said.

“Most of the time there is no need to know anyway, except for the attorney,” Mrs. Moyer said. “The judge has the power to do that now, but it is not mandated.”

Currently, the phone number and home address of a witness can be stricken from court files as long as he or she asks for confidentiality — but the names of witnesses can be released.

Anne McCloskey, chairwoman of the Maryland Coalition Against Crime, a victims rights group, praised the plan.

“If this idea would better protect witnesses, then I think it is something that needs to be addressed by the state legislature,” Miss McCloskey said.

“I think the effort is a good effort to try to make sure the existing law works,” said Russell P. Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victim as’ Resource Center. “We want to help protect victims and witness; but even if the law was changed the way she wants, I don’t think it would solve the problem with the existing law.

“Victims,” he said, “don’t know they have the existing right and if they don’t know, then changing the law won’t have any effect, because victims won’t know to ask.”

The number of cases that have been dismissed due to witness intimidation is elusive, but officials say most occur in inner cities because of mistrust and fear of retribution.

In Baltimore, witness problems are so prevalent that authorities have failed to prosecute 60 percent of the city’s cases. Twelve cases were dropped in October alone.

The city’s experiences read like a made-for-television movie.

In April, Rickey Wallace Prince, 17, was killed near a landfill behind a nightclub after being revealed as a witness in open court.

In June, Samuel Carlos Wilder, 20, was fatally shot more than 10 times before he was to testify against accused gang members.

In November of last year, Juan Wilson,18, died after being shot nine times before he could testify against a man who was later convicted of shooting a 10-year-old in the neck with a stray bullet.

Statewide, the most prominent witness killed was in 1983 when convicted drug lord Anthony Grandison Sr. is said to have paid for the killing of a witness. The targets included the witness’ sister. Both were shot at point-blank range with a submachine gun. They were hit 17 times.

“This ruling addresses a form of public protection,” Mrs. Moyer said of the resolution. “It also would force the court to move more rapidly when there are charges in dispute.”


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