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Witnesses in murder cases stay silent even when a child’s killed

DAVENPORT- Reluctant witnesses are preventing arrests and prosecutions in several Quad City murders right now, and in some cases, plea deals for lesser punishments are being made because of a lack of cooperation.

Take the case of Ayana Culbreath, a 15-year-old from Davenport who was caught in the crossfire of rival gangs outside a backyard party in 2016.

There were dozens of people at the party when she was killed.  Initially witnesses told police what they saw. Kamario HIll, then 14, and Trevor Owens, then 17, were arrested and charged with murder.

Hundreds of hours of work went into the case, close to 100 interviews conducted,but when it came time to speak under oath at depositions, no one would cooperate.

"We actually had to arrest people to get them to show up for depositions and then, of course testimony changed," said Scott County Attorney Mike Walton.

"I don't think disgusting is too strong a word, it's frustrating," he said.

"If people witness something, and are not willing to come forward and be truthful, then we cannot get justice," Walton said.

Her family revealed there was one young woman who wanted to do the right thing.

"One young lady did have the courage to speak up, and she got beat up multiple times, they kept beating her up and jumping her," said Sharday Burkhart, the victim's sister.

"Witnesses told investigators one thing and when it came to depositions, nobody had anything to say. It's disheartening. She doesn't deserve that," Burkhart said.

Prosecutors say the bullet that killed Ayana was never found, and without testimony from witnesses, the state's case crumbled.

"We only get one shot. And, if they (witnesses) don't appear, we're done. And, it looked like that was going to be very difficult," Walton said.

So, in order to procure some kind of justice for Ayana's death, a plea deal was struck.

At sentencing, Hill was laughing and acting out  in juvenile court. He will serve three years at the juvenile detention facility in Eldora until his 18th birthday.

A judge will then decide if Hill will serve more time in an adult prison.

Owens, now, 19,  who already had felonies on his record, was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison. He may only do ten.

"It's just unbelievable that no one had the courage to speak of and say what happened," said Burkhart.

"If that would have been one of the other girls there, she would have come forward. She would say what happened."