Grand Jury Could Be Convened In Unsolved Hartford Shootings
By DAVE ALTIMARI And JEFFREY B. COHEN | Courant Staff Writers
August 14, 2008
State law enforcement officials hoping to help stem the violence plaguing Hartford are leaning toward convening a secret grand jury to help investigate and prosecute unsolved shootings — a rare move that would give the state the ability to force people to testify.
City officials blame much of the recent gunfire on young people carrying guns and on the reality that others won't come forward and speak with police.
But a subpoena to testify before the grand jury is a hard thing to ignore. A grand jury proved useful in the arrest this month of a 17-year-old in the 2007 killing of Efrain Hernandez, 30. The grand jury took just four days to do its job, said a law enforcement official familiar with the case.
"You'd be surprised at how much power subpoenas carry and how people who were reluctant to talk or couldn't remember anything suddenly remember everything," said a law enforcement source familiar with the Hernandez case.
Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts is not familiar with the consideration of another grand jury to handle gun crimes, his spokeswoman said. And although Mayor Eddie A. Perez declined an interview and would not confirm the plan, his spokeswoman said he supported the idea. She said he even "raised the issue" about two years ago with the state.
"Mayor Perez thinks it is an excellent idea to break the 'wall of silence' in regards to these shootings." said Sarah Barr, Perez's spokeswoman. She said any decision on a grand jury is up to the chief state's attorney. Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane's office referred questions on the matter to Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy, who did not return a call for comment.
Grand juries are normally reserved for white-collar crimes or political corruption cases. Once set in motion, a judge acts as the panel's lone grand juror. That judge has the ability to direct people to testify or produce evidence, and the judge also has the ability to immunize witnesses from prosecution, based on the information they provide.
As of Aug. 2, the city had 106 shooting incidents and 137 shooting victims this year, city police records show.
Last weekend, 11 more people were shot. Seven victims, including a 7-year-old child and a 17-month-old baby, were shot after the city's annual West Indian parade.
Ezekiel Roberts, 21, died in that shooting. Police have said they believe he was the target, but no arrests have been made.
Earlier this week, Roberts blamed much of the gang violence on fluid groups of children between the ages of 13 and 19 who use guns to resolve their differences. He and Perez also announced the formation of a "shooting team" to work in conjunction with the chief state's attorney's office.
They also announced a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. for all people 18 and under, beginning tonight. The curfew — already on the books, but now to be enforced — will last for 30 days.
Perez said in a press release that the shooting team "will bring new resources and prosecutorial powers to solving any incident that involves a shooting."
The team will consist of two inspectors from the chief state's attorney's office and one from the Hartford state's attorney's office, two detectives and a supervisor from the state police, two detectives and a supervisor from Hartford and at least one federal agent, officials said.
More people could be added, if warranted.
State authorities want to get the team operating and reviewing cases before deciding whether to seek a grand jury, a law enforcement source said.
Law enforcement sources said there have been several meetings in the past five weeks to discuss how to stem the violence.
About a month ago, Gov. M. Jodi Rell convened a meeting of the top law enforcement officials in the state, including acting U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy, Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane and State Police Commissioner John Dannaher, along with Roberts and Perez.
Neither Dannehy nor Hardy returned a call for comment.
Federal laws make it difficult to prosecute juveniles. So authorities decided that a state grand jury would be the better route, officials said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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