Rewards raised in murder cases

One is a high school senior killed blocks from a school. Another is a Korean immigrant found dead in the neighborhood market she owned with her husband. Three are teenagers shot to death.

They are “key” homicide cases on the verge of being solved but lacking a key piece of evidence or witness that could secure a conviction, Mayor Gavin Newsom said on Thursday.

In an attempt to solidify a conviction against the suspects, the mayor told The Examiner that his office is offering $250,000 reward money apiece in 16 cases for witnesses or information that will lead to a conviction.

“There are a number, I repeat, a number of suspects in these cases that are at a high risk of murdering again,” Newsom said.

He added that $250,000 is money for a witness to relocate and start a new life after coming forward.

Despite previous rewards of up to $100,000 failing to result in a single witness coming forward in a score of homicides, Newsom has more than doubled what were already some of the highest municipal rewards in the nation.

The cases were handpicked not only because they were close to being solved but also because detectives suspect that many of the victims were slain by the same person or group — one reason why the community has been reluctant to come forward.

“These are cases where supplemental evidence is all we need,” said the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Director Kevin Ryan. “We’re looking at cases that were really on the cusp of going to trial.”

One such case that illustrates the danger of becoming a witness is Terrell Rollins, who was to testify in a gangland slaying before being gunned down at a Bayview district auto body shop. His killers have yet to be brought to justice.

Since taking office, Newsom has struggled with an increasing homicide rate that culminated with a decade-high 99 murders in 2007. The mayor authorized several rewards from $5,000 to $50,000 since his election, but in 2006 he offered $100,000 in 15 homicide cases. He later added another five cases to the reward list. Four of those cases are now part of the $250,000 reward list.

“We asked ourselves, why are we even doing these rewards? It seems like a false promise,” Newsom said. “Then I asked, would someone come forward for a million dollars, and everybody laughed and rolled their eyes, so we got down to business and came up with a more realistic number.”

Newsom said he doesn’t expect a rush of people to come forward, but solving one homicide would be well worth the investment. Like previous rewards, the money would come out of the budget for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

bbegin@examiner.com

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