Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke says his new gang prosecution strategy is working.
A judge sentenced 25-year-old Bernard Bullard to life in prison last week for a gang killing in East Macon. In cases like that one where witnesses might be afraid to talk, the key is to prepare the jury, Cooke said.
"You let them know in opening statement, 'Look, these people are afraid, they're threatened. There's actually no telling what they might say once they get on the stand,'" he said.
Last year, Cooke brought his friend and colleague Michael Carlson to train Bibb County prosecutors on special techniques for gang cases.
Carlson heads up the DeKalb County District Attorney's Gang Prosecution Unit, and is "probably the top gang prosecutor in the Southeast," Cooke said.
The key, Cooke said, is charging offenders under Georgia's gang statute, which allows information about an entire gang to be introduced in the trials of individual members.
"When people do things to work together to make the gang better at killing its rivals, then everybody who's involved in that should be held accountable," he said.
Cooke said even young people who get into gangs tend to "know what they're signing up for" and should be held responsible for their actions. But he acknowledges that many gang members might be where they are due to failures of the educational system.
"The best crime prevention that I know of is a third grader that can read on grade level," Cooke said. "I'm catching them, for the most part, when it's too late."