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Key Witness in Maryland Murder Case Fears for Her Life


In October 2006, Danielle Steele Brown's husband was killed. Then, a crucial witness in his murder case was slain. Now Brown is three years into the wait for her husband's murder trial, and she lives in fear.

They were newlyweds, just two months into a new life together; they composed a song about their love.

He was the successful music producer Raymond Brown, known as Scotty Beats. They were eager to start a family.

But late one night a group of young men tried to steal Brown's car, outside the Brown's home in suburban Maryland. When Brown confronted them, they shot him.

"I wasn't sure it had hit him until I actually saw you know this little hole in his sweatshirt and I said, "Oh my god…" and he was kind of looking at me and he was squirming and he said, "Go home" and I said, "I am not going to leave you here," Brown recalls.

As her husband was taken away, Brown traveled to the police station with family members.

"They interviewed me. And then they gave me his rings back in a little plastic container. They gave me his wedding ring and I still wear it," she said.

There have been arrests in the case, but the trial has been postponed.

As the trial approached, one of the state's key witnesses was killed. The hit allegedly was set up by the man accused of killing Brown.

"When you have a big witness and this was a big witness that is killed in the middle of a prosecution it is catastrophic," Gregory Lattimer (Brown's Attorney) says, "because it puts the prosecutor in a position of having to start over from square one. In this case there was even talk about not going forward with the prosecution."

The intimidation and murder of witnesses happens with alarming regularity in the Washington area, according to federal and local authorities. There's a well-run federal witness protection program but most murder cases are not covered by it. Since early last year, at least three witnesses have been killed on D.C. streets.

Meantime, in Prince George's county, the man accused of killing Brown and that man's brother have been indicted on charges of conspiring to kill the witness in the Brown case.

And there's a new Maryland law stating that if a defendant makes a witness unavailable, that witness's testimony can still be used.

"The idea is to take the incentive away from witness intimidation because the testimony can be presented to the jury anyway," Glenn Ivey (Prince George's County State's Attorney) said.

State and local jurisdictions nationwide have been criticized for failing to keep witnesses safe.

But Ivey says that wasn't the case here. He says the murdered witness had been relocated, but he was lured back to his old neighborhood. "You should stay away from the people who want to kill you basically. Don't believe that they have changed their minds or their views," he says, "Don't believe that things are okay. Stay away from them."

"Well that might have worked in the horse and buggy days," Lattimer says law enforcement officers, instead of instilling trust, often threaten witnesses. "What the prosecutors do and what the police do is say, "Well, I know you are reluctant and you may be scared. But this is what we are going to do. If you don't cooperate with us, we are going to tell people on we are going to make it known or available to people to know that you have been talking to us, and so now you are going to be even more vulnerable," Lattimer adds.

Ivey and Lattimer agree there's an anti-snitch (tattle-telling) mentality in communities hit hard by violence.

This, combined with widespread suspicion of police, makes solving crimes more difficult.

"We really have to stop treating entire communities like everyone is the same and try and figure out who are the people who are actually committing the crimes," Ivey explains, "let's target them for our law enforcement efforts and then treat the citizens like partners."

Danielle Brown says she called the police as their car was being stolen. The operator told her she couldn't send an officer and asked instead if the Browns had made their car payments.

Brown says despite Maryland's new witness protection law, she lives in fear and in hiding. "I don't know if I will ever feel safe. Him dying in my arms, I don't know if I can ever feel safe after that," she said.

Raymond Brown was killed almost 3 years ago. The trial for his murder is set for March 2010.

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