December 5, 2000, Tuesday, Sooner Edition Copyright 2000 P.G. Publishing Co. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette December 5, 2000, Tuesday, Sooner Edition Terms And Conditions Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.
(PITTSBURGH) -- In an ideal world, informants wouldn't exist. The police wouldn't need them because everyone would consider it his or her civic duty to come forward with information to solve a crime. No one would have to be motivated by the promise of a reward.
We know we don't live in an ideal world because the Rev. Salvatore "Sam" Brunsvold is dead. He was murdered near his Highland Park home on a cold January night three years ago. Without information linking Mr. Brunsvold's killer to the scene of the crime, homicide investigators were stymied. The investigation quickly ran into a potentially insurmountable obstacle: no witnesses.
In frustration, the police, family and friends of the university chaplain appealed to the public for information. A reward was posted for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer. Nonetheless, no one came forward until April of this year.
When Philip Jackson called the police with information about Kristopher Heggins, it was because his fiancee, the daughter of a Baptist minister, prompted him to do so. Mr. Jackson wasn't an eyewitness to the shooting, but he insists Heggins confessed the shooting to him and tried to rationalize it as an accident.
On the basis of Mr. Jackson's tip, a warrant was issued and Heggins was arrested for the murder of Mr. Brunsvold. Later, the police decided that some of the details of Mr. Jackson's version of the killer's confession didn't hold up to ballistic analysis. The confession also failed to jibe with a story the police dug up after Heggins was in custody.
In the end, a jury convicted Heggins following a prosecution theory that was somewhat different from that relayed by the informant.
The police don't seem to like Mr. Jackson, an ex-con. Despite having passed three lie detector tests, he didn't give police the version of the crime that the prosecutor used to win the conviction. After much haggling, a deal was worked out with the assistant city solicitor. Mr. Jackson was paid $6,200, considerably less than the $11,700 the Post-Gazette reported was raised. He continues to fear for his family's safety and insists he needs the balance of the money originally promised by private donors and Crime Stoppers to relocate them.
None of the many good citizens of this city came forward with information about the murder before Mr. Jackson did. He told the police what he knew. The reward money became an issue later.
So why the shortchanging? The tip was good enough to get a warrant that led to a conviction, but not good enough to earn the respect of the cops. Whose fault is that? Mr. Jackson merely told the police what Heggins told him. Should he be penalized because the killer's confession wasn't completely honest? If he hadn't come forward with a good faith but flawed story, would the investigators have solved this case? We think not.
The decision to pay or not pay reward money shouldn't be in the hands of police officials who believe they have the right to judge an informant's character. The shortchanging of Philip Jackson won't go unnoticed on the streets of crime-ridden communities.