Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Crime Witnesses Carry Big Burden

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Crime Witnesses Carry Big Burden

Article excerpt

DEE JOYCE-HAYES is frustrated.

The St. Louis circuit attorney and her staff have been searching high and low for witnesses in the senseless death of Linda Matlock. To date, they've come up empty-handed.

Matlock, 39, was killed when someone fired a shot through her kitchen window a week and a half ago as she was helping her daughters with their homework.

A week ago, Joyce-Hayes and the St. Louis Police Department announced they had a suspect in custody. Their investigation indicated that several people had witnessed the suspect fire a weapon indiscriminately. To charge that suspect, however, some of the witnesses would have to step forward. Joyce-Hayes made an impassioned plea for help from anyone who had seen anything.

"This case illustrates two appalling things: The senseless, random, stupid violence that is going on in this city and killing innocent people," Joyce-Hayes said at last week's press conference, "and the problem with people who will not come forward when they have information that could lead to a conviction."

One week later, no one has beaten a path to her door.

Police believe they have the gun used to kill Matlock. They believe they have enough evidence to get an indictment against the suspect. They believe that is what the grand jury will do when it hears the evidence on Feb. 15.

But without witnesses, Joyce-Hayes said Thursday, it will be difficult to get a conviction.

In that sense, she says, this case is not so unusual.

"Getting witnesses to come forward is a significant problem that we face," she says. "It's analogous to the story about someone who was shot in a crowded poolroom, but everyone was in the restroom and didn't see anything."

The circuit attorney's office is unable to prosecute about a third of the cases it sees because witnesses will not speak up, she said.

Why won't people come forward?

Fear, she says, is the chief reason.

"There's a limit on what we can do to protect them. We can pay to move someone to a different part of the city or to a different city. But we don't have the money to do witness protection or to provide people with 24-hour armed guards."

Joyce-Hayes recognizes the fear. …

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