Police want beefed up penalties for witness tampering

Police say the murder of a 10-year-old Trenton girl allegedly killed in retaliation for her mother's testimony against a neighbor showcases the need to combat witness tampering and intimidation in New Jersey.

Authorities believe Qua Daisha Tompkins was killed in a Mother's Day arson attack against the family. Tompkins' mother testified against Isaac "Chin" Barlow last year, saying the reputed gang member ran a nearby crackhouse. According to prosecutors, trial evidence shows Barlow was trying to locate witnesses in order to eliminate them.

Police aren't getting much cooperation in Qua Daisha Tompkins' death and believe a neighborhood policy of "not snitching" is to blame. Trenton Police Director Joseph Santiago says the fear of retaliation makes it harder to prosecute murderers everywhere, not just New Jersey.

"In the old days, homicides were solved at about a 90 percent rate, and, as of last year, it's gone down nationwide by a little over 60 percent," he says.

Efforts are being taken to prevent witness intimidation and protect residents who speak out. Trenton police are currently trying to secure funds to create a short-term witness protection program. They say action needs to be taken at a state level also.

The state Senate has passed legislation to create tougher laws governing retaliation and witness tampering. The legislation has been handed to the Assembly and is not expected to pass until September.

Attorney General Anne Milgram says she supports raising the penalty for witness tampering to a first-degree crime, particularly if it involves violence. Elevating a crime to that level usually carries a fine around $500,000 and 10 to 20 years in prison.

Fatal Trenton fire investigated as a homicide

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