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Victims reluctant to call 911 because of own legal problems

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – David Hennessy has made a career of representing people in trouble.

As a longtime Indianapolis criminal defense attorney, Hennessy’s clients usually find themselves against the law while sometimes the victim of an even worse crime.

“When you call the police for help because you’re the victim of a crime and you may be involved in more minimal criminal activity, it’s easiest to prosecute them because, ‘Well, they’ve been caught and we don’t have to do any investigation,’” said Hennessy, reflecting what he sees as a typical police or prosecutorial mindset, “and those people just won’t call again if they are the victim of a crime.”

Hennessy’s experience highlights a different perspective to the struggle police, courts and prosecutors have in dispensing justice for a society that is increasingly less likely to cooperate with investigators due to conflicted self-interest or fear of retaliation.

IMPD’s current homicide solve rate hovers at 42 percent.

Hennessy recalled the story of a client named Roderick.

“If you have a guy who is selling marijuana and then the guy wants to rob him and shoots him in the head, I’m thinking the guy shooting people in the head is probably more dangerous to the community instead of the guy selling a little bit of marijuana.”

Hennessy said his client faces six years in prison for possession of the gun and marijuana police found when they investigated his unsolved shooting.

Another client named Demarcus called police when an ex-girlfriend broke into his home and arriving officers found a small amount of suspected marijuana.

“They let the girl go who broke into the man’s house but prosecuted him for having marijuana in his house,” said Hennessy who doubts either client will ever cooperate with investigators again.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said sometimes worse things happen to bad people.

“Murders don’t typically happen in front of the most upstanding citizens in the community,” he said, “and so you’re starting with a situation where the vast, vast majority of the time your witnesses perhaps have criminal histories of their own or other issues that impact their credibility.”

IMPD Sgt. Chris Wilburn said that while officers and detectives are duty-bound to make arrests when they observe criminal activity, they do have a little leeway to consider cutting some slack to a victim with minor legal problems if their cooperation may lead to a worse offender.

“When you’re a victim, you’re willing to cooperate, but sometimes when you’re engaged in activity that is against the law, you’re not so forthcoming,” said Wilburn. “Detectives through processes of the prosecutorial element can kind of have some wiggle room in the sense that they can make concessions but those are unique instances and those have to be communicated effectively by a suspect or by someone who has been a victim of a crime or a witness of a crime.”

Hennessy said it’ll take a wholesale change of mindset of the legal system, and more money to expedite cases, in order to convince witnesses and victims it is worth their time and threats to their personal safety to participate in the prosecution of criminal suspects.

“The tough decision then comes with the prosecutor, we need to prioritize. If you prosecute everyone, then no one is gonna testify against anybody,” said Hennessy. “You’ve got a real problem. People just don’t want to come downtown. They don’t want to go to the courthouse. It’s the way they’re treated. They sit around. They have to sit around four or five times. They sit around. The case gets bumped. It’s out now a year a year and a half, memories fade.”

This week, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced he had found $300,000 in the next municipal budget to fund a witness protection program to relocate anyone who sees a crime but is too afraid to cooperate with investigators.