City offers rewards for unsolved killings

In an attempt to lure reluctant witnesses to come forward amid rising city homicide numbers, The City is offering rewards of $100,000 for information leading to arrests and convictions in 15 killings.

The cases, which date back to May 1, 2002, represent instances where police have exhausted every possible lead, Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice head Allan Nance said Tuesday.

Police and the District Attorney’s Office have both said in the past year that they need cooperation from witnesses in order to arrest and prosecute murderers. Law enforcement officials suffered a setback May 4, when Terrell Rollins, a witness in a murder case, returned to The City against the directions of the district attorney’s witness-protection program. He was shot dead as he stood in front of a garage on Bayshore Boulevard.

The announcement of the new rewards came just a day after The City’s homicide rate reached 66 for the year. The number was 52 on this date last year.

“It’s among the panoply of things we’re trying to do to reduce the violence in San Francisco,” Newsom said of the newly authorized rewards.

The list of cases in which the new rewards are being offered includes the death of Evelyn Hernandez, who disappeared along with her son, Alex Hernandez, in May 2002. Her partial remains were found floating in the Bay near the Embarcadero and Folsom Street several days after she was last seen, but police found no trace of Alex. Her full-term, unborn child also was not found.

Other open cases include the killing of Victor Bach, who was found bludgeoned to death inside his Treat Avenue plumbing supply business Oct. 31, 2004, and Raymond Russell,who was shot in front of his Bayview home as he loaded his sport utility vehicle for a fishing trip.

The money for the rewards will come from The City's general fund, Nance said. In order to qualify for a reward, a witness must provide information that leads to the arrest, prosecution and conviction of a suspect.

Sean Richard, a community activist and founder of the anti-violence group Brothers Against Guns, applauded the move. He said the current rewards, generally in the neighborhood of $10,000 to $15,000, are not enough of an incentive for witnesses to come forward. “It needs to be enough money to get that family settled in and be able to make that transition. Not just a little money that’ll be able to hold them for two to three months.”

Newsom suggested Monday that recipients of the new, increased rewards could use the money for the down payment on a house in a different area or to start a business.

In addition to the rewards, Nance said, the Mayor’s Office is in the process of introducing a $2.6 million appropriation to the Board of Supervisors to help pay for an increase in policing and violence prevention efforts.

San Francisco Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes said he encourages the mayor’s efforts. “I think rewards are a good thing,” he said. “I think they do motivate people.”

amartin@examiner.com

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