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Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney describes need for state-funded witness protection program

Portsmouth police arrested a man in a “murder for hire plot" a week after Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced his administration was seeking funding for witness protection

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Witness intimidation is "nothing new," according to Portsmouth Commonwealth's Attorney Stephanie Morales.

In an interview Wednesday, she said state leaders need to move forward with plans to fund a statewide witness protection program.

“People who are witnesses and in fear for their safety - that fear is real," Morales said. "We need to be able to place resources behind protecting the members of our community when they come forward.”

Portsmouth police announced just yesterday that officers arrested a man for allegedly plotting the murder of two people who are witnesses in a pending case against him.

Investigators called it a “murder for hire plot.” Nicholas Ortiz, 41, is facing charges of solicitation of murder and witness intimidation.

Morales said while she cannot comment on pending litigation, witness intimidation is, and has been, a big problem.

“I will say generally that this is nothing new, where we have allegations of people intimidating witnesses. That is not a new thing," she said. “We are committed to doing everything that we can and utilizing all our resources to keep people safe but we need dedicated funding.” 

RELATED: Gov. Youngkin shares plans to recruit officers, raise pay, invest in community partnerships to cut back on violent crime

Morales said if people are too afraid to talk, “you will have problems prosecuting cases.”

This all comes after Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced "Operation Bold Blue Line" last week. It's his administration's plan to curb violent crime in Virginia.

One leg of that project is finding funding for a statewide witness protection program.

Morales said dedicated funding is needed to keep people safe and encourage them to come forward if they’re a victim, or they witness a violent crime.

“We have to as government officials, be committed to keeping the members of our community safe when they do come forward and the funding for the witness protection program will be a step in the right direction in being able to do that," Morales said.

“They have to live in the community with those that are accused of violent crime, and they have to think about their safety and the safety of their family members, and if we as government officials are asking them to come forward, we should also have the resources and the ability to assist them and protect them.”

Right now, Portsmouth has a “victim witness program” but Morales said it’s a support program that connects witnesses and victims with counseling and travel to and from court. 

Morales said while her team works hard to keep witnesses and victims safe, robust funding from the state would help authorities across the state put more violent offenders behind bars.

She said she's raised concerns before about the state's lack of a fully funded witness protection program before.

RELATED: Norfolk commonwealth's attorney voices concern over Youngkin's 'Operation Bold Blue Line'

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