Breaking The Conspiracy Of Silence

News headlines across the country highlight the impact of what police and prosecutors call an "epidemic" of witness intimidation on our criminal justice system reports CBS News correspondent Armen Keteyian.

In Philadelphia today, two men were sentenced to life in prison for killing a ten-year-old boy, caught in the crossfire of a gun battle between drug gangs. The conviction came even though at least eight witnesses to the crime went silent on the stand — apparently out of fear for their lives.

Greg Thompson runs a community program for juvenile offenders in Philadelphia where breaking the conspiracy of silence surrounding violent crime is not an easy sell. At one recent meeting, 18 of the 20 young offenders had witnessed a shooting firsthand.

"A lot of people get killed for talking to the cops or goin' to court on somebody," says a juvenile offender named Salim.

In Philadelphia alone, witness intimidation is said to affect virtually every case of violent crime.

"We have to market the fact we need people to come forward. I mean, the other side being the thug culture, is certainly marketing the fact that it's not in your best interest to come forward," says Chief Inspector Joseph Fox of the Philadelphia Police Department's Homicide Division.

Community leaders and local law enforcement embraced that message, and two months ago launched a marketing campaign of their own.

Dorothy Johnson-Spite runs Mothers in Charge, a group that encourages people to overcome their fears and cooperate with the police — something no one did after her son was murdered after a dispute in a parking spot.

"If someone had came forward with just some information, that person would have been taken off the street, and today my son would still be alive. So we live with the pain," she says.