How confidential are confidential informants? 13 News Investigat - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

How confidential are confidential informants? 13 News Investigates Kanawha County, WV system

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CHARLESTON, WV -

Branda Basham was a confidential informant who helped law enforcement lock up drug dealers throughout Kanawha County. Detectives believe she was killed by Marlon Dixon, a well-known drug dealer, because she was working with police.

On Thursday, Dixon waived his preliminary hearing. His case now goes to the grand jury.

Since his arrest there have been several questions, including if Basham was well-protected or if there was more that could have been done to keep her identity as an informant a secret.

13 News sat down with law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and confidential informants to discuss the safety and protection when it comes to drug buys and drug related cases.

One man we spoke to has been an informant for nearly 30 years. He wanted his identity to be kept secret since he still works with the police.

“I could go get Roxicodone, Opana, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana,” he said. “I got addicted to drugs and shortly there after I witnessed my first murder. I didn’t want to do it anymore.”

He got clean years ago and started working with the police. Threats, he said, are part of the deal. Like the threats against Branda Basham, who police say was killed because she was working to get a heroin dealer off the streets.

“We try very hard to make sure they are protected as much as they can. But in most cases you cannot protect anybody a hundred percent,” said Chuck Miller, the chief of staff for the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office.

One of the reasons identities cannot be completely protected is because of confidential informant (CI) packets. According to Miller, by law, these packets have to be handed over to the defense as part of the state’s evidence.

A CI packet is a sealed folder with information about the informant, like the person’s name and address. It also contains documents such as that person’s criminal history and reports on a specific buy.

“We generally don't turn that over unless we know it's going to trial,” said Miller.

It is still unclear in several of the cases Basham was involved with, if the defense team did receive a CI packet. That information is supposed to stay with the defense team and defendant, no one else.

“Defendants often times don't pay any attention to restrictions on the use of materials. They'll tell all of their friends and neighbors that so and so is a CI so it's very hard to keep that information confidential,” said Miller.

The state CI system and the federal system are very different. The Feds do not use names, they use numbers instead.

A state prosecutor, however, can ask for an informant’s name to be temporarily sealed if safety is a concern. According to Miller, that rarely happens because the defense has a legal right to that information.

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