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Witnesses in Colorado fear paying ultimate price

  • Story Highlights
  • Some witnesses say Colorado does nothing to protect them
  • One witness spent over 10,000 dollars on security after being terrorized
  • Community activist says Colorado's witness protection program is "a joke"
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By Randi Kaye
CNN
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DENVER, Colorado -- A Colorado man terrorized by threats after testifying against his daughter's abusive boyfriend says he has spent $10,000 on a security system, hired a bodyguard for his son's wedding and never leaves home without a .45-caliber handgun strapped to his chest.

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Keith Reynolds was convicted for witness intimidation after threatening witnesses in his domestic assault case.

The man, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case, says the state did nothing to protect him after the 1999 conviction of Keith Reynolds for domestic abuse -- even after prosecutors told him a hit had been put on his family.

A report in the Denver Post pointed out major problems protecting witnesses in the state of Colorado. Paul Logli, chairman of National District Attorneys Association, told Congress this year that witness intimidation has become "almost epidemic," according to the Denver Post.

When asked if prosecutors had made the family aware of Colorado's witness protection program, the witness in the Reynolds case said, "All they told us was maybe we should move."

"I'm pretty sure I told one of them -- either him or his wife -- about the program. I can't remember if I gave them all the details." the prosecutor assigned to the case, who didn't want to be named, told CNN.

After Reynolds' conviction, the witness and his wife saw strange cars parked outside their home. They received phone calls during which the only sound on the other end of the line was a gun being cocked. The couple received a death threat from Reynolds himself through the mail.Video Watch witness describe fear of being targeted »

Reynolds was then sentenced to ten years in a maximum security prison for witness intimidation. However, it is likely he'll be released within five years.

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No national statistics on crimes against witnesses exist, and minimal research has been conducted on the subject. The latest National Institute of Justice survey on record -- conducted more than a decade ago -- shows that more than half of big city prosecutors consider witness intimidation a major problem.

Colorado has $50,000 allocated to its witness protection budget. In contrast, the city of Denver spent almost $100,000 on landscaping last year.

The state, on average, spends about $1,000 per witness. That figure supposedly includes moving expenses, rent, and furniture. The federal program spends in excess of $40 million per year on witness protection.

One possible reason for the disparity is that witnesses in state cases do not get new identities, as do federal witnesses. "It's not designed to be a long-term relocation at the public's expense; it's a way to ensure the immediate safety of the witnesses," according to Peter Weir, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

Colorado's witness protection program is a "joke," according to The Rev. Leon Kelly, founder and executive director of the Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives.

Kelly says the state doesn't provide enough incentive for witnesses to come forward. More than a decade ago, a young man named Darryl Givens asked Kelly for advice while deciding whether to testify in a murder case or face prison. Givens chose to testify. A few months later, he was shot twice in the head by men he considered friends. That day continues to haunt Kelly.

Rhonda Fields says failures in the witness protection program may have contributed to her son's murder. Javad Fields was a college graduate who was engaged to be married. He had plans to move east when a Fourth of July barbecue in 2004 in changed all that. He witnessed the murder of his best friend and subsequently testified against three men suspected in the killing.

Javad Fields and his fiancee were gunned down while driving along a suburban street in Aurora, Colorado. The couple, both 22, died instantly.

Rhonda Fields says her son was never told about a witness protection program. She confronted prosecutors after his murder. Fields told CNN, "I asked them what happened. Why weren't any measures taken to safeguard his life? And I was told he never asked for any protection."

Javad's mother does not think it was her son's responsibility to ask for protection. "I think it's the authorities' responsibility to notify witnesses of the dangers that are involved with being a witness," she said.

Field's case illustrates glaring weaknesses in the witness protection program. Prosecutors filed an order for protection requesting Javad Fields' personal information be kept secret, but it wasn't signed by a judge until one year later, after defense lawyers had already given the suspects Fields' personal information, along with crucial trial documents.

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"I felt like the DA's office used my son to win their case but did not take the proper measures to safeguard his life," Rhonda Fields told CNN.

District Attorney Carol Chambers maintains the program has improved. She says a notice about witness protection is now attached to every subpoena, ensuring witnesses are aware of their options. That didn't start, however, until two years after Javad Fields was killed. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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