For homicide investigators, Cle “Bone” Sloan was a key witness in their murder investigation of Marion “Suge” Knight. Sloan told them the onetime rap mogul had threatened to kill him immediately before running him and another man over with his truck.
But during a preliminary hearing this week, Sloan suddenly became more reticent. He refused to say Knight ran him over and insisted he could not remember key details of the incident that left him with serious injuries and killed another man, Terry Carter. Under questioning from prosecutors, Sloan cried on the witness stand and declared he was not a “snitch.”
Despite that, a judge ruled Thursday that Knight should stand trial on murder and attempted murder charges.
But prosecutors still face an obstacle as their case heads to trial: Dealing with a reluctant witness.
Sloan’s testimony highlights what legal experts say is a frequent occurrence in the justice system as witnesses insist they have forgotten what they saw or change their stories. Some recant from fear of retaliation, but experts say that others are motivated by a powerful unwritten code against cooperating with police and prosecutors.
Recantations are particularly common in cases where witnesses, the accused or both have gang affiliations — and occur even when witnesses are no longer living the gang lifestyle or are called to testify against members of rival gangs.
Prosecutors have long used a reliable strategy for dealing with witnesses who recant, a problem that is so common that it has become “just part of the fabric of the system,” former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said.
One of the prosecutors in Knight’s case adopted the method during the preliminary hearing when she read aloud the transcript of Sloan’s interview with investigators and played a recording of his statement for the judge.
Her approach dates back decades and has proved highly effective, Cooley said.
Source: Los Angeles Times | Marisa Gerber