FOX13 INVESTIGATES: Does Memphis, Shelby County need a Witness Protection Program?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jeremy Dowdy is a crime victim with a permanent physical scar that he hides with a hat.

The front part of his head is deformed from a bullet that nearly killed him in September 2013.

“It is just so crazy because I remember like it was yesterday,” said Dowdy, as he sat in an office of the Pursuit of God Transformation Center in Frayser.

He had gone to his car and was going to smoke pot with another man who pulled out a gun and shot him, Dowdy said.

“I could see the bullet coming towards me and I knew there was like nothing I could do to dodge it or stop it from happening,” Dowdy said. “It went into my eyelid. And the bullet went in an upward position. And that is when it tipped my skull exiting out the back of my head.”

Dowdy was left to die.

Dowdy says he never received justice because witnesses changed their statements to protect the criminals.

“I remember telling myself you can’t die because you’re too young,” he said.

Dowdy told FOX13 News that Murphy was angry at him for flirting with his girlfriend.

Memphis Police arrested James V. Murphy for attempted first-degree murder and weapons charges.

According to court records obtained by FOX13 News, Dowdy picked out James V. Murphy from a photo lineup and was willing to testify at trial.

The case never made it to trial and charges were dropped by the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors became concerned because Dowdy suffered a “severe brain injury. He cannot put a gun in Murphy’s hand,” court records said.

The prosecutor also had other issues with witnesses.

According to those same documents, one key witness changed his story. When asked by prosecutors “if he had been paid off, he hesitated but never answered. Since that time, we have not been able to reach him.”

Those issues and others compelled prosecutors to drop the charges against James Murphy.

Dowdy was disappointed by the decision.

FOX13 discovered in Shelby County the number of cases of witness coercion has nearly tripled from five in 2018 to 13 in 2020.

The number of cases of witness tampering in Shelby County has steadily increased as well from 32 in 2018 to 37 in 2020.

Pastor Ricky Floyd of Pursuit of God Transformation Center told FOX13 the victim and other witnesses were intimidated.

FOX13 asked Pastor Floyd if he believed the state of Tennessee needs a witness program.

“I think these numbers that we see definitely indicate what we are seeing in the inner-city community that there has to be some type of witness protection program,” Pastor Floyd said.

Neither the state nor Shelby County has an official witness protection program.

According to a 2018 Public Safety Partnership Program study, it recommended Memphis and Shelby County sufficiently fund a witness protection and relocation program.

Authors of the study wrote, “investigators and prosecutors cannot expect witnesses to risk their lives by cooperating and testifying against murderers without reasonable and relatively basic protection protocols in place.”

Two years after the study was released, Memphis broke the homicide record for the city in 2020.

Both active and retired homicide detectives told FOX13 Memphis and Shelby County need to create a witness protection program.

FOX13 asked Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich if she thought Tennessee and Shelby County needed a witness protection program?

“Sure. Sure. We do what we can with limited resources in this office when we are made aware that someone needs to relocate,” she said.

FOX13 sent Weirich the California version of the Witness Protection or Cal WRAP.

Prosecutors call it effective, but the price tag more than $2.3 million. The money was distributed to 24 district attorney’s offices.

It provided services to 159 witnesses and their 249 family members, witnesses who provided testimony against 355 violent offenders.

There were 106 gang-related cases, 33 high-risk crimes, seven human trafficking cases, two domestic violence crimes, and one narcotics trafficking case.

But how to pay for it is the big question asks Weirich.

“It comes down to resources,” she said. “Either the state carving out that money as they have done in California or someone locally saying we want to set aside this amount of money for MPD, DA, or all of us together to have at our use as needed.”

There doesn’t seem to be an effort to push that forward, which leaves Dowdy to wait.

“I don’t know,” he said. “All I know is I never received justice.”

FOX13 emailed the governor’s office to ask if he would be open to establishing a witness protection program.

FOX13 was sent the following response, “The governor will give any legislative proposal careful consideration should it reach his desk for his signature.”

As for the man arrested for shooting Dowdy and the case dropped against him, James Murphy was arrested for shooting to death a six-year-old boy last August.