- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - City prosecutors have filed more than 2,000 witness-intimidation charges since 2011 to try to address the city’s “no snitching” culture, which has threatened to paralyze the criminal justice system.

The cases range from execution-style slayings to courtroom threats and include charges filed Wednesday over an eyewitness who was shot four times leaving home the day of the trial.

That witness survived and is now expected to testify against the four men charged Wednesday in the plot to kill him. City police and U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents pursued the case for two years.

“In Philadelphia, we have an exceptionally high level of witness intimidation. It allows for, in many ways, a revolving door (at the courthouse),” District Attorney Seth Williams said at a news conference. “But we’re going to do all that we can. This arrest is another attempt to shut that revolving door.”

The victim was set to testify in a relatively low-level gun case in September 2011. He called police after a man named Aki Jones allegedly fired a gun into the air to break up a fight. Jones was charged with a gun crime that might have brought only probation in state court. Instead, federal prosecutors took over the case, and he was convicted of a felon-in-possession law that brings a mandatory five-year term, according to Sam Rabadi, the ATF’s special agent in charge in Philadelphia.

The victim was nearly killed “because he was willing to come forward, because he wanted to do something about the violence in his neighborhood,” Rabadi said. “He was fed up.”

The victim is now getting witness-protection services.

But even the best safety plans aren’t foolproof.

One Philadelphia woman went to Florida and changed her name after telling police about a murder she had witnessed. But the woman, 23-year-old Chante Wright, secretly returned to visit an ailing grandmother in January 2008. She and a friend were gunned down in a car hours later. She had apparently told two people about the visit, Williams said.

In one of the city’s most horrifying witness intimidation cases, imprisoned drug kingpin Kaboni Savage ordered a hit on an informant’s family. The ensuing firebombing killed the informant’s mother, another woman and four children in 2004. At a federal trial last year, Savage was convicted of killing at least 12 people during his years atop the city’s drug trade, including a witness killed the week Savage was on trial in Philadelphia for an unrelated murder. Savage is now on federal death row.

Aki Jones, now 37, was likewise in jail when he allegedly plotted with the alleged shooter, Shaheed Williams, and two others to kill the gun-case witness in September 2011. It was not immediately clear Wednesday if they had lawyers.

The district attorney has sought more funding for witness protection, but he noted that it rarely involves moving people out-of-state to start a new life, as movies might suggest. Instead, it more often involves moving witnesses and their families out of the neighborhood, typically to a different public housing project, he said.

“Our No. 1 priority is always going to be cases related to witness intimidation. I would argue there’s no greater threat,” said Rabadi, the ATF supervisor. “There aren’t really bad blocks in this city or bad neighborhoods. What you have are bad (individuals), holding people hostage.”



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