CINCINNATI — A Hamilton County Juvenile Court judge dismissed charges Oct. 6 against a Cincinnati teen who had been in custody for two shootings because the "essential witness" was scared and showed no sign that he would testify.
The WCPO 9 I-Team was in court as the prosecutor requested a continuance.
"You cannot proceed without that witness — is that correct," Judge Melissa Powers asked the prosecutor.
"Yes," the prosecutor replied.
The defendant had been held at the Hamilton County Youth Center for seven months, according to his defense attorney.
"These matters will be dismissed for want of prosecution," Powers said from the bench. "If the witness comes forward, the charges can be refiled."
How often does this happen?
"It's more frequent than you would like," Powers said to the I-Team.
The dramatic surge in Cincinnati shootings during the pandemic prompted a law enforcement crackdown on felons caught with illegal firearms. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said uncooperative witnesses make it harder to hold those violent criminals accountable for their actions.
"It's really quite sad, because it feeds into that whole problem if people don't step up," Deters said.
Mitch Morris, who works with youth through the Cincinnati Works Phoenix Program, said many witnesses fear "retaliation" because they live near suspects in neighborhoods where shootings have killed people.
"When they talk about retaliation, it's serious," Morris said. "It's for real."
Despite possible fear, Morris said many witnesses are cooperating with police.
"They've been reaching out trying to say something about these shootings, so I can see a change coming," Morris said.
Still, some families of victims are still waiting for much-needed witnesses. LaVonda Evans said she is waiting for someone to come forward with enough evidence to charge the person responsible for the death of her 16-year-old son, LaDarius. LaDarius Evans was shot and killed during a quadruple shooting in June.
Evans spoke at an Aug. 3 city council committee hearing asking city leaders to focus on answers to the community's gun-related violence.
"This was a loss that I had to take,” Evans said. “Half of my heart is gone, and this is what he'd want me to do."
Now, she's hopeful witnesses will overcome their fears and provide the evidence needed to prosecute her son's killer.
You can report information anonymously to police through Crime Stoppers online and by calling 513-352-3040.