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Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Police need help


Gay murder: Frightened witnesses

Add the New Year's Eve drive-by murder of Gregory Beauchamp to the lengthening string of Cincinnati cases stymied by witnesses afraid to testify. Police last month arrested and charged a suspect with slaying Beauchamp in Over-the-Rhine, but two witnesses changed their story when testifying before the grand jury. And now the grand jury has declined to indict.

We can't make neighborhoods safe if witnesses are afraid to testify. The Beauchamp case is only the latest to illustrate that police and prosecutor need the community's help to bring violent criminals to justice. Other witnesses may be able to identify the killer, and Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen has said he won't let the case slide into the inactive file. But without reliable witnesses, prosecution will be difficult.

"It's a result of a recurring problem of witnesses either not showing up or getting amnesia when they get on the stand," Allen said. "If community members don't come forward or don't testify, we can't prosecute these cases."

In the Beauchamp case, witnesses changed their stories or suddenly didn't remember what happened. On New Year's Eve, Beauchamp, a 21-year-old gay man, was walking with two men dressed in women's clothing when a car pulled up at Vine and Liberty. Someone inside yelled anti-gay epithets and a gunshot from the car killed Beauchamp. The gay-rights group Stonewall Cincinnati says witnesses in the Beauchamp murder were reluctant to testify because word on the street linked the perpetrators to a gang and warned it wouldn't be the last killing of gays.

Another Hamilton County grand jury in late June declined to indict another suspect in the June 14 Over-the-Rhine shooting that killed Daniel Boone Gregory, 18, of Taylor Mill. The suspect, who as arrested by police, had been released from prison Jan. 10 after serving three years on an assault conviction, and police said they had three eyewitnesses linking him to the June 14 killing.

Cincinnati's 2002 Collaborative Agreement to end the class-action profiling lawsuit against the city imposes many obligations on police. But it also requires city residents to help police fight crime. Fear of armed drug dealers and gangs runs deep, but residents must join in the effort to combat these crimes. Only with community cooperation will police be able to find new witnesses or new evidence that will enable the prosecutor to take these cases to trial. No one should be able to get away with murder in this community.




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