Were new criminal justice reform laws responsible for the murder of a witness in NYC?

The NYPD and any number of concerned citizens of Gotham have been warning us that the newly passed criminal justice and bail reform laws in New York might wind up getting somebody killed. One of their chief concerns along these lines is the requirement that disclosure to the defense, including the identities of victims and witnesses in violent crimes, be turned over within two weeks of the initial indictment. Understandably, defense attorneys would like to have the most time possible to prepare, and getting such information on the eve of the trials is widely seen as being unfair. But allowing that information to reach the accused and their friends could result in witness intimidation or worse.

Now we learn that one such case has ended in tragedy. Wilmer Maldonado-Rodriguez, 36, was one of several people who were assaulted by a group of nine gang members in December of 2018. The case was about to go before a judge and jury, but the night before the trial, Maldonado-Rodriguez was found bludgeoned to death on Long Island. Police suggest it’s because his attackers learned of his identity. Defenders of the new justice reform laws insist that there was no relationship between the new laws and the killing. (CBS New York)

Did the case of a witness brutally murdered on Long Island have anything to do with New York’s new criminal justice laws?
There was strong reaction Thursday from criminal justice reform advocates after police assertions that new trial procedures may have jeopardized the man’s safety.

Supporters of New York’s new laws said the death had nothing to do with changes in trial procedures.

Nine alleged gang members were accused of assault last year, and now one of the assault victims is dead.

The Nassau Police are describing the chain of events in a timeline indicating that the names of the victims were quickly delivered to the defense attorneys and intimidation began almost immediately. The fact that Maldonado-Rodriguez was scheduled to testify against nine gang members and was mysteriously murdered the night before the trial is a bit much to ignore.

But was it really because of the new laws that he’s dead? That’s unclear at this point. Those rejecting the explanation of the cops do make a few potentially valid points. First of all, Maldonado-Rodriguez wasn’t just a witness who might have been totally unknown to the gang members. He was one of the victims, so they might well have already known who he was. Also, the defense attorneys were instructed not to release the names to their clients prior to the trial and only use the information for their own preparatory purposes. They testified to the judge that they had not given the gang members the name. I suppose it’s up to you as to how much credence you give that testimony.

Also, supporters of the new laws point out that the court and the police had other options. They could have ordered protective monitoring of Maldonado-Rodriguez to keep him safe, but that wasn’t done. He could even have been taken into protective custody during the runup to the trial. Instead, he was out wandering the streets on his own and it seems fairly obvious that the gang caught up with him. But that’s one of the problems with the new law that we’ve already discussed. The NYPD already has enough strains placed on their resources. Under these new rules, they have to monitor criminals who are immediately released on no bail and figure out how to keep victims and witnesses who are scheduled to testify in trials from getting whacked. The load on law enforcement resources and the subsequent costs to taxpayers are already going up.

In the end, these new laws may or may not have been a direct driver of how Wilmer Maldonado-Rodriguez wound up being beaten to death in the streets. But even if that wasn’t the situation in this case, it could have been. And it almost undoubtedly will be for someone else in the future, so these laws need to be amended or repealed.