A Conspiracy Of Silence

court witness baltimore
One of the keys to our criminal justice system is the testimony of witnesses — testimony given freely without fear of retribution. As CBS News correspondent Armen Keteyian reports, the system is breaking down in some of America's biggest cities. Criminals are literally getting away with murder because witnesses are afraid to testify.

A CBS News investigation reveals that witness intimidation affects or derails up to 30 percent of all cases involving shootings in major U.S. cities including Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. In homicide cases, that number jumps to 90 percent, with Baltimore topping the list.

"We call it a conspiracy of silence and I consider Baltimore to be the epicenter of witness intimidation in the country," says Patricia Jessamy, Baltimore City State's Attorney.

"A guy came out of an alley and put a gun to my head, told me I wasn't going to make it, to live to go to court," says one witness Mia, who asked that her identity be concealed.

Mia put her life on the line when she agreed to testify in a shooting case in Baltimore — but in urban America these days, she's the very rare exception. Simply put, the United States is seeing an epidemic of witness intimidation.

In Baltimore, like so many cities, drug dealers and gang leaders use any means necessary to keep people from talking to the police.

Leon Parnell runs a local crisis center. He says in his neighborhood, snitches are often the target of fire bombings, shootings and beatings.