Case closed … or not? Witness intimidation can thwart murder prosecutions

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Tishara Parker wells up with tears as she remembers her daughter Chasity and the relationship she had with Steven Williams.

“I thought he loved her.”

If it was love that Williams had for Parker, it was a controlling, jealous and deadly love.

Williams got charged with his first violent crime, a 2013 murder, and by then Williams and Parker had been dating for five years. She wouldn’t testify against him, and the charges were nolle prossed – or set aside – and Williams walked.

Two years later, police suspected Williams in another murder. Again, Parker wouldn’t testify and that case collapsed, just like the first one. The family says Williams was threatening them.

“I remember the police coming to talk to (Chasity) one time he was in jail,” Parker said, “but she said she didn’t know anything.”

After the second killing, Chasity broke up with Williams, who again was out on Norfolk streets. Williams did not take the breakup well.

“He said that he would kill her.”

The family feared that Chasity could be next. She was.

“I asked her, are you worried about him? Are you scared? She said no,” Parker said.

In July 2015, just weeks after the breakup, Williams tracked Chasity down at her great-grandmother’s home. He shot out a window of the Kimball Terrace apartment, chased her up the stairs into a closet and shot her eight times.

Williams pleaded guilty to murdering Parker and is serving 50 years in prison.

The Norfolk Police Department and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office declined our request for an interview for this story.

The death of Chasity Parker is a tragic example of witness intimidation. Harvey Bryant, a former federal prosecutor and Commonwealth’s Attorney says there are generally two types.

“Sometimes it’s objective, that means there really is intimidation, and sometimes it’s subjective in the mind of the witness.”

Bryant says it’s the duty of police and prosecutors to do whatever’s possible to keep witnesses safe.

“To help assure these people we’re doing everything we can to protect you, we’re doing everything we can to keep this defendant in custody.”

Newport News Police Chief Steve Drew says a witness’s faith in the system has to be earned. “The main relationship is going to be that homicide detective and that family member building trust.”

Virginia Beach Homicide Detective Angela Murphy says witnesses living in fear is a constant challenge.

“We know they have legitimate fears sometimes, but we don’t have the manpower to constantly protect someone.”

It’s a hard truth to hear for the mother of Chasity Parker. “If you’re gonna protect them, then you should protect them, and not just say that and really do something.”

Drew says when a defendant goes free when charges are set aside, “You get some people pounding on the desk and some trash cans getting kicked across the room,” because the likelihood increases that more trouble is just around the corner.

“If a witness decides not to come to court, or the case is nolle prossed, or it’s continued to another date, all those things increase the time frame for bad things to happen.”

Police and prosecutors have advocates that support victims and witnesses and maintain contact with them. If a defendant’s in jail, authorities can monitor mail and phone calls for possible threats.

“You can often catch a defendant asking a buddy to intimidate a witness, to go warn them, to tell them not to do this or they’re gonna get hurt, their family’s gonna get hurt,” Bryant said.

Authorities will often try to appeal to a witness’s sense of right and wrong, and empower them by showing the impact of their testimony.

“We know you’re afraid, but if you don’t do this, this person who murdered somebody is gonna walk free,” Bryant said.

Murphy agrees. “Helping them to understand that what they’re doing is not only beneficial to them, but to someone else, and society in general.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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