The Accidental Jurist

Leonard Peltier. Stephen Miles. Now the witness who might break the Ramsey case. Itís no wonder Lee Hill thinks he needs to pack a pistol.

Hill took her to a hotel in Boulder, where he left her to spend the night. He'd contacted Hunter, who'd arranged for him to bring her to the Boulder Police Department on Tuesday. At first, the police said that Hill couldn't be in the interview room with her, at which The Witness balked. But after pointing out that even the Ramseys were allowed to have their attorney sit with them during police interviews, and the fact that there would be no interview otherwise, the police relented.

In the meantime, Hill needed to find a safe place to hide her. His first thought was an official "safehouse" of the sort used to protect victims of domestic violence. However, because Hill would not reveal the name of the man The Witness was afraid of -- whose name would have been instantly recognizable -- the safehouses in Boulder and Longmont refused to accept her, even after Hunter intervened.

On Tuesday afternoon, The Witness met with two Boulder detectives while Hunter watched the interview on closed-circuit television from another room. Hill didn't know it, but The Witness was ill and running a high temperature.

Halfway through what would be a four-hour interview, Hill took a break and went back to his office. He was stunned when he listened to a message from The Witness's therapist. They had figured that The Witness's family would file a missing-persons report in order to locate her; they'd even briefed Hunter about the possibility. Now he learned that the Boulder police had contacted the police in The Witness's hometown and told them that not only was she in Boulder, but that she would be coming to the police station with her attorney, Lee Hill, to talk about the Ramsey case. The police in California had passed all of that information back to The Witness's family -- the very people she didn't want to know where she was or what she was doing.

Livid, Hill returned to the police station and told The Witness what had happened -- in front of the detectives, who tried to explain that they were just following standard procedure. The Witness turned pale. She said she was now concerned over the safety of her niece, who she suspected may be suffering the same abuse she had. And she was worried about the case, because now her family would know to destroy or hide evidence. And she was worried about her personal safety. The man she was naming was wealthy and these people, she said, were ruthless.

At the end of the interview, the detectives slid their business cards across the table to her. But there was one last thing The Witness wanted to tell them. She said that in the most recent assault, she had been burned with a stun gun. She wanted to know if there was a female detective who could examine and photograph the marks as evidence. The cops arranged it.

When she stepped out of the interview room, Hill, who didn't want to make a scene in front of her, demanded that Hunter come into the room. When the district attorney was present, Hill lit into the detectives. They'd done very little about letting The Witness get to the important parts of her story, choosing instead to question her about when she might be "going home."

"She can't go home," Hill yelled. If their leak to the California police was standard procedure, then any stalker in the country could locate his prey by filing a missing-persons report. He was a former law-enforcement officer and he knew that revealing the whereabouts (much less that she was a potential witness in a murder case) of a competent adult who knew where she was didn't wash.

"At considerable risk to herself, she leaves everything and comes forward to try to help you people. Then you needlessly strip her of her only security and tell her pursuers where she is and what she's doing. And all you can give her to shield herself is two fucking business cards. I'll be goddamned if I'm the only one responsible for her safety."

Hunter tried to diffuse the situation, but Hill and The Witness left through the back door. Now Hill was really worried about finding her a safe place to stay. He turned to his friends with the American Indian Movement -- if there was one group of people who weren't afraid of standing up to the government, it was AIM. He called friends, a poor family who didn't have much. Yet without asking any questions about why this woman might be in danger or what risk they might face, they told Hill to bring her over. Suddenly, he felt enormous relief. Leave it to his people to offer what they had to someone in need.

The Witness stayed with them for several days, but Hill knew that they were barely scraping by as it was, so he looked for someplace else to hide her while they waited to hear from the Boulder police.

In the meantime, Hill called an FBI agent he knew and told him the story. The agent recommended a colleague who was a specialist in child pornography. Accompanied by Singular, Hill and The Witness went to meet the federal agent. In one hour, the agent knew more of the woman's story than the Boulder police had learned in four. What's more, whether he believed her or not, he treated her with respect and empathy. And he set her up with an FBI victim-witness advocate who found her a place with a Denver-area safehouse. There, once staffers knew The Witness's story, they hired extra armed guards.

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