Without funding for witness protection in Michigan, prosecutors get creative

In the last 16 years, Genesee County has had to protect nearly 100 witnesses, keeping them safe to hold suspects accountable.
Published: Jul. 23, 2020 at 6:13 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - (7/23/2020) - Denzel "Dee" Williams-Boyd is still on the run tonight.

Police in Genesee County are working to find and arrest the 20-year-old on seven felony charges, including first degree premeditated murder.

He's accused of shooting and killing Martina Martinez because she couldn't pay him gas money. David Leyton said she was murdered over just $10.

ABC12 has learned Martinez's friend was with her at the time and survived the shooting.

The Genesee County Prosecutor said she's now in protective custody.

What exactly does that look like?

David Leyton said no such program actually exists in Michigan; so, he and other county prosecutors have to get creative.

Only one person witnessed what Leyton calls the “cold-blooded murder” of 19-year-old Martinez.

One of the seven felony charges against Williams-Boyd is assault with intent to murder; because, Leyton said he tried to kill Martinez's friend too.

“She’s the one who was able to give us the pertinent information that allowed us to identify the perpetrator of the crime,” he explained. “So, she’s a very critical witness.”

If she isn't able to testify, would the Prosecutor have a case?

“We would have a problem,” Leyton said.

He explained her testimony is needed to convict Williams-Boyd. The 20-year-old is facing up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

So his Office is protecting her. The woman has been moved out of town.

But to do that, Leyton had to ask the Genesee County Board of Commissioners for permission to move a couple thousand dollars or more from somewhere else in his budget.

He said the state of Michigan doesn’t have a witness protection program, so there’s no funding available.

“Instead of buying stationery or fixing the copy machine, we take the money and put somebody up in a motel. We take the money and buy ‘em a bus ticket out of town. We take the money and buy ‘em a plane ticket out of town,” Leyton said. “So we know they’re protected because that’s the most important thing we can do with that funds.”

This protection exists not just for witnesses involved in a case where the suspect hasn't been caught. Leyton said even with the suspect in jail, a witness may need added security from that suspect's family or friends.

“Prosecutor Kym Worthy of Wayne County, Prosecutor Jessica Cooper of Oakland County, Prosecutor John McColgan - and before him - Mike Thomas of Saginaw County, all see the need for this, but nobody in Lansing is listening,” Leyton said.

Over the last 16 years, he's protected close to a hundred witnesses. Fortunately, no one has lost their life.

Leyton believes a witness protection program would also make unidentified witnesses comfortable coming forward, making it possible to hold more alleged criminals accountable.

“You’re going to get better results and justice for victims and their family,” Leyton said.

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