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The Heart of the Matter
March 28, 2012 - Joe Gorman
Wednesday was a perfect example of how it can be incredibly frustrating to be a Youngstown police officer, a prosecutor, judge, or even crime victim.
I was in the courtroom of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney as she was hearing the case against Kevin Agee, who is accused of being one of two men who brutally gunned down an elderly South Side couple on a brilliant September Saturday in 2010 as my son and I celebrated his birthday with field passes to a YSU game. Tom and Jacqueline Repchic had the misfortune of driving a car that matched one driven by a man Agee and codefendant Aubrey Toney had a beef with, so they shot it up, killing Thomas Repchic and wounding his wife.
A witness was called to testify and he showed up dressed to the nines but soon the word went out: He would not testify. The man was hauled before the judge in handcuffs and when she asked him why, he flat out told her: ``I just refuse to get involved with this case.'
He was led away in cuffs and placed in a holding tank in the bowels of the courthouse but something must have changed his mind because a half hour later he testified and was set free. On Tuesday, the trial's first day, a woman had to be handcuffed in front of the jury after her testimony in court was miles apart from her videotaped testimony to police. She even was allowed to watch the tape of her statement but when she came back she not only refused to cooperate, she got in an argument with the judge -- in open court. She was cuffed and calmed down and allowed to leave after she finished testifying.
This is a big part of the city's crime problem. Reluctant witnesses. During the recent prosecutor's race, there were a lot of questions about plea bargains and deals and dismissals. Sometimes, when the witnesses don't come through, you really don't have much of a choice.
But it goes farther than that. This attitude is tolerated in certain parts of the city. You would think the murder of a man just driving his car on a city street in broad daylight who was killed instanly and the wounding of his wife, who lost a foot because of the bullets, would be something that would make you tell the truth to the authorities if you knew something. You would think people would put pressure on others to do the RIGHT thing. That they would almost be shunned if they did not.
You would think.
But that is not Youngstown. That is not the lifestyle where an eye for an eye is not only tolerated, but justified and praised and taught as a way of life. This has to stop. And this is something that no government, no police department, no feel good social program or anything can take care of. Somehow, in certain parts of the city, this kind of thinking has taken root in the hearts of people and the change can only begin there -- in people's hearts.
Do I think that can happen? Some days, yes. And then there is today, when no one wants to do anything. I looked back at the Repchic family in court. They had to be seething. I can't say that I really blame them. The thing is, if anything ever happened to these two people and others with the same attitude, they would be keening at the top of their lungs for justice and would be horrified if witnesses didn't testify in their case.
It has to make you throw up your hands some days and give up. Thankfully, there are always just a little bit more people who keep on keepin' on than people who don't care. What we need is for that balance to keep growing, or someday, it may be the other way around.
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