• SNITCHING: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice
  • U.S. Attorney General's Guidelines on the FBI's Use of Confidential Human Sources
  • Sarah Stillman, The Throwaways, The New Yorker (2012) (article on the use of juvenile informants)

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Contract killer avoids death penalty by cooperating

Washington Times journalist Jim McElhatton has written another revealing story about the violent dynamics of snitching: this one on seven-time killer Oscar Veal who cooperated against the violent Washington DC drug gang that hired him. In exchange, Veal escaped the death penalty and was sentenced to 25 years, half of which he has already served. Story here: A killer deal: be a star witness, escape execution. Based on thousands of pages of newly obtained documents, the Times story offers a rare window into the secretive dynamics of such arrangements. From the story:
Veal, 39, shot and killed seven people. A contract killer for a large drug ring and murder-for-hire operation a decade ago, he cooperated with prosecutors and became a star witness for the government. Kevin Gray, the lead defendant in one case in which Veal testified, alone was convicted in Washington of taking part in a record 19 murders.
But there is a price to be paid for such testimony. Veal could have faced the death penalty. Instead, he has completed about half of a 25-year prison term -- less than four years for each of the execution-style murders he committed. At his 2005 sentencing, which has not been previously reported, a relative of one victim said she will pray until her dying breath that Veal never sees the streets again. And attorneys for the men he testified against portrayed him as a snitch willing to lie in court to save himself.
The Veal story starkly illustrates the trade-offs of the criminal informant deal. On the one hand, deals with murderers like Veal are one of the only ways the government can go after violent criminal organizations. On the other, society pays a significant price, not only because Veal will walk the streets again but because offenders like him know that the most heinous of crimes can be worked off in exchange for cooperation.