Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Police: Shooting was not revenge

Homicide tied to drugs, not man's testimony

By Dan Horn
Enquirer staff writer

Cincinnati police said Monday that the slaying of an Evanston man last week was not in retaliation for his testimony in a recent murder trial.

Donte Rogers was killed in a drug-related dispute with a man who had nothing to do with the murder case, officials said.

"This is the result of a drug deal gone bad," said Cincinnati police homicide Lt. Kimberly Frey.

Despite assurances from police, worried witnesses in several other homicide cases called detectives Monday saying they now are afraid to testify because they don't want to end up like Rogers.

Police detectives spent much of the day meeting with those witnesses in an effort to change their minds.

Frey said Rogers' shooting death Friday morning - and subsequent media coverage linking the shooting to his testimony - could undo months of police work in the community that has slowly increased cooperation from witnesses.

She said that cooperation is crucial as police struggle with increasing homicidal violence in Cincinnati.

Homicides reached a 26-year high last year with a total of 75. The numbers so far this year are even worse: Rogers' was the 46th homicide victim this year, compared with 40 at this time in 2003.

"I think citizens are getting fed up with all this violence," Frey said.

"We've had a lot of witness cooperation in the last few months, so this is absolutely frustrating."

Police arrested Timothy Clark, 42, on Sunday and charged him with murder in Rogers' death. They say the shooting occurred when Clark confronted Rogers outside his home in Evanston and accused him of robbing him of drug money.

Police and prosecutors say Clark had no connection to the men Rogers testified against last month.

Rogers, 21, testified in the trials of Derrick Benning and Ryan Lillard. They were accused of killing Raymone Lyons, who was killed when shots were fired into a crowd in the West End on Aug. 6, 2003. A jury convicted Benning of murder but was unable to reach a verdict in Lillard's case, causing a mistrial.

Prosecutors say Rogers' testimony was needed because he owned the car the two suspects were in at the time of the shooting.

They say Rogers never expressed concern for his safety and never reported any threats to them.

"His homicide was definitely not related to his testimony," said chief assistant prosecutor Mark Piepmeier.

Prosecutor Mike Allen said he hoped the misperception that Rogers' death was connected to his testimony would not scare off witnesses in other cases.

Allen recently created a witness assistance program to protect witnesses worried about retaliation.

"It is a concern," Allen said of witnesses too frightened to come forward. "It's been a problem for a long time."


E-mail dhorn@enquirer.com

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