GARY — A 28-year-old woman was killed and her 8-year-old daughter was wounded early Tuesday in a shooting in the city's East Glen Park section, police said.
Pamela Hunter died from gunshot wounds in a homicide in the 1400 block of East 35th Place, according to the Lake County coroner's office.
Her daughter was taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening wounds, Gary police Lt. Dawn Westerfield said.
Hunter was a witness in a pending murder case at the time of her shooting, court records state. She was expected to testify in June at the murder trial for Marcellus D. Robinson and Tyiana C. Robinson, who are brother and sister.
Jamise Perkins, a defense attorney representing Hunter in a pending 2013 criminal case, said Tuesday on social media she believed Hunter was murdered because of her role as a witness in the murder case.
The defense attorney said Hunter's shooting made it clear Lake County needs a witness protection program.
Neighbors recall 'no drama' at victim's home
Gary police responded about 1:55 a.m. for a report of shots fired on East 35th Place. Officers were flagged down by a man at a home, who told them two people had been shot, police said.
Hunter, who lived on the block, was pronounced dead at the scene, a coroner's release stated.
Hunter and her children moved into the home less than a year ago, neighbors Shannon Steed and Melody Irving said. The women said they didn’t know Hunter well, but her children often played with other kids on the block. Hunter never had a lot of visitors or spent much time outside, they said.
“She don’t never have no drama going on,” Steed said.
Steed wondered why anyone would want to kill Hunter and said the homicide was shocking.
“Now you gonna let those babies grow up with no mother,” Steed said. “It’s sad.”
Irving said she heard gunshots early Tuesday but didn’t see anything.
“When I heard the pow, pow, pow, I looked, but there was not a car out here,” she said.
Police and coroner’s investigators arrived a short time later, she said. A front window at Hunter’s home appeared broken, but no one appeared to be home.
Victim testified at murder defendant's bond hearing
Perkins posted a message on Facebook Tuesday afternoon stating she was “heart broken” about her client's shooting.
She said Hunter, a mother of five children, was a petite woman with a big heart.
She said she believed Hunter was “senselessly murdered” because she was a witness in the state's murder case against Marcellus Robinson.
Marcellus Robinson, 23, and Tyiana Robinson, 21, are charged in Lake Criminal Court with murder in the shooting of Mynisha S. Brown, 24, around midnight Nov. 29, 2015, near 19th Avenue and Kentucky Street in Gary. The siblings allegedly shot Brown because of a dispute between her sister and the Robinsons' sister over the man who fathered both their children, authorities allege.
Marcellus Robinson allegedly told authorities he had an alibi for the murder — he was at Hunter's home for a party the night of Nov. 28, 2015.
Hunter testified on behalf of the state at a bond hearing for Marcellus Robinson on Sept. 30, 2016, court records state.
She testified Marcellus Robinson did attend the party, which began at 9 p.m., but disappeared during the night. She said the defendant returned later and gathered with several friends in her bathroom. She said she overheard Marcellus Robinson talking in the bathroom about “shooting a vehicle up,” court records state.
Hunter testified Robinson told friends “he shot the girl under the arm,” records state.
Hunter further testified she drove earlier that day with a friend to the home of the Robinsons' mother. She said Marcellus Robinson told her friend he needed a gun because “some girls” busted out windows at his mother's home, records state.
Marcellus Robinson was denied bond and remains incarcerated at Lake County Jail awaiting trial. Tyiana Robinson is also jailed without bond for her alleged role in the shooting.
Defense attorney Scott King represents both siblings in the murder case. He said Tuesday that Perkins' statements were irresponsible and not based in the case's facts.
He said Hunter's testimony at the bond hearing revealed she had an active social life, and there were many people who could be responsible for her death. The siblings are scheduled to go to trial June 11.
Attorney says victim received threatening calls
Perkins told The Times on Tuesday that Hunter received threatening phone messages related to the Robinson case in recent weeks. She was also threatened by two men at a gas station, Perkins said.
Hunter said last week she wanted to move to Georgia to live with a family member because of concerns she had about her safety, Perkins said.
Hunter was herself facing criminal charges of child neglect and operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated on allegations she crashed a vehicle Feb. 12, 2013, into a bridge support in Gary.
Four of Hunter's children were in the vehicle during the crash, and her 3-year-old daughter suffered two broken legs. A blood test at the hospital indicated Hunter had a 0.25 blood-alcohol content, records state.
Perkins said Tuesday that Hunter was being chased by the father of her children, who was in a separate vehicle, at the time of the crash.
Hunter was offered a proffer agreement from the state for her testimony in Robinson's case. Prosecutors agreed in the proffer to grant her favorable consideration in the disposition of her own criminal matter, records state.
Perkins, a former Lake County prosecutor, said Hunter's murder should be a wake-up call for the prosecutor's office and police departments. She said witness intimidation was a long-standing problem in the community that needed to be addressed.
She said Lake County needed a witness protection program. She pointed out that the Indianapolis City-County Council voted unanimously in January to allocate $300,000 to create such a program in their community, as reported Jan. 29 by the Indianapolis Star.
She said the Lake County Prosecutor's Office should be applying for grants and petitioning the Lake County Council for similar money.
“They say there is no money,” Perkins said. “I say, find the money.”
Prosecutor urges caution, investigation continues
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter cautioned Tuesday that the investigation into Hunter's death was ongoing and there was no indication so far that she died due to her being a state's witness.
He said prosecutors regularly communicate with witnesses about taking precautions after reporting a crime, which can mean, in some circumstances, having to temporarily relocate while a case is pending.
Carter said a witness protection program would be expensive — it could mean putting up an entire family in a hotel for months — but his office would not be opposed to creating such a program if the funds were available.
“We're only successful when we have people cooperate,” he said.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Cpl. James Bond, of the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit, at 219-755-3855. To remain anonymous, call 866-CRIME-GP.
Hunter is the 17th homicide victim so far this year in Gary, records show. The city had logged 15 homicides at the same time last year.
City officials as well as law enforcement, faith and community leaders came together Friday at Clark Road Baptist Church to recommit themselves to a multifaceted anti-crime strategy in the face of rising violence.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who often says even one homicide is too many, said officials know violence in the city is an "intractable problem."
Freeman-Wilson, Police Chief Richard Allen and Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez Jr. said law enforcement partners at the local, state and federal level use data to focus on the most prolific offenders.
Several pastors laid out plans for the Gary Ten-Point Coalition, a faith-based anti-crime network that will work with police to identify and respond to high-crime areas.
The coalition will focus on intervention, crime prevention, educational opportunities, awareness, and job training and placement. They'll conduct peace marches and work to build a relationship of trust with community youths.