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Schumer Calls For Federal Law Protecting Witnesses

Gino Geruntino, WIBX

Utica, NY (WIBX) – As the number of violent crimes and shootings continue to increase in Utica, Senator Charles Schumer is attempting to protect witnesses of those crimes.

Schumer was in Utica Thursday afternoon to explain the proposed State Witness Protection Act, which would apply federal penalties to anyone intimidating witnesses.

“When there is a violent offender who is being sought, there’s a bulls eye placed by these gangs on the witness’s back,” Schumer said. “They intimidate them, they intimidate their families, and they make the point that they do not want to allow people to testify.”

The senator is backing a proposed law that makes intimidating a witness a federal crime, with a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison for attempted murder or other physical harm.

Oneida County District Attorney, Scott McNamara, holds up a piece of paper used to intimidate one of his witnesses. The paper shows a pair of lips sewn shut and a scalpel with the phrase "seek truth" on it. Threatening messages were also written on the page. Gino Geruntino, WIBX

Other non-physical crimes, including obstruction of justice, would result in up to a 20 year prison sentence. If a witness is killed, federal penalties would be handed down, including the death sentence.

Utica Police Chief, Mark Williams, says the information witnesses provide officers is invaluable. With tougher laws in place, he says witnesses may be more readily available.

“We’ve got to get our assistance on board, because without that cooperation, what you’re going to find is that it’s going to lead to the next shooting and the next shooting after that,” Williams said. “It all becomes retaliatory. It’s sad, because this wouldn’t be necessary if we had cooperating witnesses. You can stop it right at the beginning.”

Schumer’s bill follows several incidents, including a case where UPD officers stopped canvassing a neighborhood because people yelled “snitch” at those attempting to work with police. In addition, there have been 37 shootings this month, up more than 300 percent from last year.

The senator says the proposed State Witness Protection Act should be coming up in the judiciary committee sometime in the fall. He also expects it to have bi-partisan support.

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