Deadly Silence

Lethal lies

Few people who lie about a crime wind up going to jail for perjury

By Maureen Boyle, Enterprise staff writer
   BROCKTON — Prosecutors say they’re cracking down on witnesses who lie, but court records show that once the cases get to court, few are convicted and even fewer go to jail.
   Of the 27 people charged with perjury in Plymouth County in 2006 and 2007, only three were convicted.
   And in one of those cases, the punishment was a financial slap on the wrist.
    In March, Andrea Braham of Brockton, was convicted of perjury in Brockton Superior Court after a one-day jury-waived trial.
    She had told police she saw a man open fire near a downtown bar in Brockton and pulled her sister down to safety. But when she testified before the grand jury, the Bridgewater State College graduate insisted she didn’t see the man shoot.
   Her sentence? A $25 fine.
   The man accused of opening fire that night was arrested again months later, accused of killing his girlfriend with a gun shot to the head.
   In two other cases, witnesses to two murders were sent to prison for at least two years after they were convicted of lying in court.
   Cedric Hamilton was sent to prison for two years after he first told a grand jury he knew who killed 16-year-old Anthony Weeks on July 5, 2002. But when the trial came, Hamilton claimed on the stand he either couldn’t remember or didn’t see the suspect. The suspect, George Vicente of Brockton, was still convicted of second-degree murder.
    Lizzette Stephanie Lopes was convicted of perjury and given a 2-to-4 year prison sentence in connection with the 2005 kidnapping and slaying of Jeffrey Andrade, 23. No one has been charged for that killing.
   But those are the exceptions and police, prosecutors and community leaders say more must be done to force people to do the right thing for the safety of everyone in the community.
   “People witness a crime and they want to do street justice,” said Ollie Jay Spears, a member of the Brockton Peace Crusaders, a group of community activists.
    “No one is talking. It is crazy. What do we do? Is it education? Is it rewards? When you have rewards, people’s lips start really moving.”

Rosando Marcelino, who was shot and left paralyzed in the shooting that killed Shaian Colon, grieves at his friend’s grave. (Craig Murray/The Enterprise)

New law cracking code
   For more than a year, The Enterprise has examined the street “code of silence” — looking at court records and crime statistics; interviewing dozens of investigators, victims, community leaders, business people and neighbors; going to crime scenes, and watching dozens of trials — to see first-hand what effect it is having and what is being done to stop it.
   The code of silence — called “no snitching” in urban neighborhoods — is not just a city problem. Slayings in suburban towns such as Carver and Berkley remain unsolved because witnesses won’t talk.
   But the “no snitching” culture has haunted Brockton for more than two decades, fueling crime and sending residents and businesses fleeing.
   Now, police and prosecutors are finding that a two-year-old law targeting gang violence is helping. The law makes it a crime to lie to police, investigators and a wide range of criminal justice personnel.
   It is a small step in cracking the code of silence, authorities say.
   But not every lie — even by omission — is legally perjury. And proving someone lied — not just mistaken — isn’t that easy once the case goes to court.
   Take the case of Charlene Cox, who told a grand jury she saw a Boston man firing what appeared to be a gun the night a 29-year-old woman was killed in the parking lot of the now-closed Guido O’Shea’s club on the city’s south side on July 21, 2002.
   When the case came to trial, she testified she didn’t see a flash coming from the suspect. The accused gunman was acquitted.
   That left Shirley Grant Tucker, mother of victim Shawna Devine, still waiting for justice.
   “You can’t just get on the stand and say you don’t recall, after you tell police you saw something,” she said. “You have your hopes up, sitting there, waiting and then someone says they don’t recall.”
   The judge, in that case, said there wasn’t any “clear and compelling” evidence to support a perjury charge. Even though the testimony was inconsistent, he said, under law, some collaboration is needed to support claims of perjury, not just inconsistencies in testimony.
   To prove perjury under law, the lie must be told under oath, it has to be proven to be a lie, the person must know it is a lie ,and it has to be a lie involving a “material issue” of the case.
   Joseph Krowski, a Brockton defense attorney, said just because someone lies on the stand doesn’t automatically mean it is legally perjury.
    “A lot of times, it is just an opinion of what somebody says,” he said. “If people say they didn’t see something, how can you prove they didn’t see something?”
   When witnesses don’t tell authorities what they know, criminals may roam free and a community’s quality of life — and its reputation — may suffer, activist Spears said.
   “If they don’t tell, they are part of the negativity of the street,” he said.