Even with homicides up in Chicago, evidence falls short in murder cases

According to Chicago police officials, the city ended 2012 with a total of 506 homicides. This number represented an increase of 15 percent from 2011. In the first 16 days of 2013, Chicago logged 25 homicides — on pace to overtake the 40 homicides recorded a year ago in January of 2012.

Yet, even with homicides on the rise, murder convictions are down in the Windy City. Some experts believe that one of the primary reasons is that fewer people have been willing to come forward as witnesses.

Witnesses Reluctant To Talk To Chicago Police

Twenty years ago, the clearance rate for murder in Chicago was nearly 70 percent — in other words, seven out of 10 murder cases were solved by police. Today, however, the murder clearance rate is closer to 30 percent — less than one in three.

What's going on? Murder cases are extremely difficult to investigate and prosecute without the cooperation of witnesses, many of whom are becoming more reluctant to testify, or even to answer police questions.

"It's very frustrating," Chicago Police Sgt. Cesar Guzman told NPR News. Guzman is a detective with the city's violent crimes unit. "I mean, we're looking, we're stopping people to see if they heard or saw anything, and most people would say no, they didn't see anything, they didn't hear anything...it's not easy to find witnesses."

Police officials say that a spike in retaliatory shootings is part of the reason witnesses are remaining tightlipped. Fearing for their safety or that of loved ones, many choose to hold their tongues; the police are even having difficulty coaxing the victims themselves to talk when a shooting is nonfatal.

"So a detective arrives to a scene, witnesses are not cooperating, victims not cooperating," Chicago Chief of Detectives Thomas Byrne said in an interview with NPR News. "It makes it very difficult to piece the puzzle together on what happened."

Others have a slightly different viewpoint as to why fewer witnesses are cooperating with police: trust. The Chicago Police have de-emphasized community policing strategies in recent years. Many Chicago residents — particularly in less affluent neighborhoods of color — say the police have failed to earn their trust by being active participants in the community and providing adequate protection.

Get A Strong Legal defense If You've Been Accused

Given the recalcitrance of many potential witnesses in the Chicago area, when the authorities do move forward with a homicide prosecution, they likely have a strong case. If you've been accused, you need an equally strong defense.

Contact a Chicago criminal defense attorney to learn more about your options for defending against murder charges. Remember, it's not just your freedom on the line; in Illinois, where the death penalty is on the books, it could be your life.