Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino opened an inquiry on Thursday into how the key witness in the Barnoar murder case had slipped away from the heavily guarded police safe house before dawn.
Senior police officers said Thursday the state witness’ escape may have seriously jeopardized the indictments against the perpetrators in the 2009 shooting, in which two youths were killed and 15 wounded.
A senior source said the state witness’ escape, under the noses of six detectives, constituted “severe negligence.”
Dozens of police officers, assisted by officers from other police districts, searched on Thursday for the witness who had apparently slipped out of the bedroom window of the safe house before dawn Thursday after telling the guards at about 2 A.M. he was going to sleep. His disappearance was only detected hours after he had gone.
By last night the man’s whereabouts were still unknown, police said.
While police continued searching for the state witness, he met with a Channel 2 reporter and told him, “I am a dead man walking.”
In an interview with the reporter, the witness said, “I am in fact living, but I am dead from within. There is pressure from the police on the one hand, who expect results, and there is pressure from the suspects, which makes you constantly fear for your life.”
Since his escape, there has been no contact with the man, and the police are using all means at their disposal to locate him.
The witness had been placed under round-the-clock protection following threats to his life after his identity was disclosed on online social networks last week. After Channel 10 revealed the first safe house location, the witness was moved to another secret venue, awaiting the witness protection program.
After his escape on Thursday the state witness’ identity and photograph surfaced in an internal police email that was also sent to volunteers. This is contrary to standard procedures, which stipulate that identities of state witnesses remain confidential, even within the police force. Police released an announcement Thursday saying the state witness’ life was in danger.
Police are furious with the witness, a high-ranking source said. He had been asked to keep a low profile, but instead arranged meetings in the safe house, held telephone conversations, and used Facebook. Police now fear that he will be pressured by interested parties to reverse his testimony,
undermining their case against the perpetrators of the shooting.
Police say that the witness is not under detention but is contractually obliged to act only with their approval and report his whereabouts. He is also supposed to be under 24-hour protection.
Despite their anger, the police do not want to break off contact with the witness. Earlier on Thursday police officers insisted the case has not been undermined since enough evidence and testimonies have already been gathered.
However, as the hours passed police feared that if the witness fails to appear in court to testify against the murder suspects and face their attorneys, the prosecution would have a serious problem on its hands.
When the missing state witness gave the interview to Channel 2, police feared he would give a different version than the one he was to give at the trial. If he changed his story it would compromise his reliability in court, police sources said.
The witness was to be placed in the national witness protection program and the police were working on his cover when he slipped away from the safe house.
“We’ll learn the lessons from this case but the most important thing now is to focus on the investigation and find the witness,” a senior police officer said on Thursday.
The witness, who identifies himself as gay, had approached the police voluntarily and gave details pertaining to the murder. He said he had given information about the gay youth center to the suspects without knowing that they were intending to kill anyone. After reaching an agreement with him, the police used the state witness as an undercover agent. In that capacity he managed to record the suspects apparently confessing to the murder.
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