Concerns Raised Over Witness Intimidation

Thursday, March 15th 2007, 8:13 pm
By: News On 6

Witness intimidation is something the justice system most often deals with in cases involving murders or gang activity, but it happened in a case this week in Tulsa County that involved a man shooting a woman in the leg over a TV. A call went out over the police scanner Wednesday involving a witness who was supposed to be in court to testify saying someone had slashed his tires. News On 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright reports this particular witness, understandably, was very scared and showed up at court with a police escort.

A jury found Ryan Wilson guilty of burglary, pointing a deadly weapon and assault with a dangerous weapon. His girlfriend had been kicked out of her apartment by her roommate and he broke into the apartment to get some of his girlfriend's stuff back. In the ensuing melee, he shot the roommate in the leg. It's not the type of case you'd expect to deal with witness intimidation, but it happened.

"There were some witness harassment issues and a problem we had with witnesses who were afraid to testify," said Assistant District Attorney Bill Musseman.

This is certainly not a new problem for the District Attorney's office. Charges were dropped in two high profile murders in 1998 after witnesses changed their stories and refused to cooperate. Prosecutors believe they did so out of fear. The DA has several things in place to offer protection and safety for people who are trying to come forward and do the right thing. Still, threats can have a chilling effect.

"It can be a frightening process anyway and when you add things like harassment, threats, it makes them scared to come testify," said Musseman.

Prosecutors say justice happens when citizens work through that fear and step up to tell the truth for the greater good. In this case, harassment and threats didn't stop the witness or a verdict.

"In this case, the defendant was found guilty on four of the five counts and sentenced to 24 years,” said Musseman. “He's going to prison for 24 years for the crime he committed."

The jurors never knew anything about the slashed tires or threats. It was never brought up in court because there was no way to tie the intimidation to the man on trial or even show that he knew it had happened.