Marion County Prosecutor’s Office adding resources to help with uncooperative witnesses

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Witnesses failing to speak up keeps dozens of murder cases unsolved every year in Indianapolis.

On Thursday the Marion County Sheriff's Office and the Marion County Prosecutor announced a plan to team up in a hopes tripling their ability to secure the cooperation of witnesses.

The fact is the lack of witness cooperation prevents many cases from being successfully solved and prosecuted.

The Marion County prosecutor says last year 30 to 40 murder cases encountered issues with witness cooperation, resulting in some charges being dropped.

Outside a Long John Silvers in Castleton last September, 13-year-old middle schooler Matthew McGee died after being shot in the head.

The case remains unsolved because police say several witnesses have refused to talk, frustrating the victim’s family.

"They’re scared or they feel like there’s no snitching," said the victim's cousin Sherae King.

In another case, in August 2015, 16-year-old Jaylen Johnson was shot to death behind a home on 31st street.

Court records show the teenage murder suspect was found not guilty last year after his half-brother, who was a key witness, failed to cooperate and wound up being held in contempt of court.

"It is an enormous problem as everyone knows," said Marion County prosecutor Terry Curry.

The prosecutor's office employed two individuals--retired police officers--who served subpoenas and attempted to locate witnesses. One of those investigators retired.

Curry reached out to Sheriff John Layton, who agreed to assign an additional officer to the help Curry and his deputy prosecutors. The office now has three investigators developing a rapport with witnesses and providing services like escorting them to court. The three individuals are essentially working full-time for Curry's office.

Curry says the three full time investigators working to locate witnesses, build trust and even escort those witnesses to court if needed.

"In working with those individuals, the single most important thing is to develop a rapport and trust," said Curry.

"There is a challenge that’s out there that we face daily," said Marion County sheriff's deputy Joe Dowdell.

Dowdell, the newest member of the prosecutors team, knows most witnesses simply want to feel protected.

"They want to know that they’re safe," said Dowdell.  "We’re here to help them so we can get the bad guy off the streets."

"The point today is we feel like we’ve added a tool that will assist us in successfully prosecuting more cases," said Curry.

This effort comes just a few weeks after city leaders voted to spend $300,000 to allow the IMPD to expand their witness protection efforts.