When a man was killed in 2007 after he resisted threats and bribes and testified against a man who had shot him, District Attorney John Chisholm created a team of investigators to target people who threaten witnesses. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tells how the effort has worked, in a six-part series.
During the violent summer of 2015, when the number of homicides in Milwaukee soared to a high not seen since the early 1990s, one man set off a cascade of violence by trying to methodically eliminate witnesses he believed had cooperated with police to put him behind bars. It was only one of a number of high-stakes witness intimidation cases in Milwaukee County, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a six-part series. In the past two years, prosecutors have filed charges in at least five homicides, five attempted homicides and two conspiracies to commit a homicide, all cases involving efforts to silence a witness. In 2015, prosecutors charged nearly 190 people with witness intimidation, a 250 percent increase from a decade before, a Journal Sentinel analysis of court data found. Those cases resulted in a lower rate of dismissals, more convictions, and longer sentences than those issued in 2005.
Milwaukee County underwent a fundamental shift in witness protection tactics after the 2007 murder of Maurice Pulley Jr., who was killed after he resisted threats and bribes and testified against a man who had shot him. Vowing to beat back such brazen efforts to undercut justice, District Attorney John Chisholm created a team of investigators to target people who threaten witnesses. The team has grown to seven investigators who work closely with sheriff’s deputies and local police. Using specialized software that flags cases where intimidation is likely, the investigators pore over recorded jail calls and online social networks. They stake out courtrooms looking for any sign of intimidation: a gesture in the court gallery, a photo taken of someone on the witness stand or chatter of someone not showing up in court. They’ve had successes, but the volume of cases makes it difficult for investigators to keep up. “No face, no case,” is still a common saying for those behind bars.