A Buffalo man is headed to prison for more than five years because he refused to testify in a murder trial after initially providing key evidence to authorities.
And the U.S. Attorney's Office hopes the sentence sends a message to other would-be witnesses.
Jeffrey Mills, 47, had earlier been convicted of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors said he reneged on a pledge to testify against his cousin Thamud Eldridge, who was charged with murder in the 2005 death of Sam "Smokey" Jones Jr.
On May 21, 2015, Mills provided information to his parole officer, law enforcement officers and a prosecutor about two homicides and a robbery/kidnapping, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Meghan A. Tokash, who handled the case. He told authorities he saw Eldridge running from the place where Jones was killed, before getting into a vehicle that left the area.
Authorities said Mills also claimed to have seen Eldridge toss a gun to another person and heard him instruct that person to hide the firearm. After the homicide, Mills said Eldridge left Buffalo and traveled to Atlanta. When Eldridge returned, he effectively confessed the murder to Mills, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Mills also provided the prosecutor with information about other criminal activity committed by Eldridge, after which Mills was advised that he would be called as a witness in the trial against his cousin, authorities said.
However, authorities said when Mills was called as a witness Feb. 3, 2016, at Eldridge's trial, Mills walked by his cousin in the courtroom and winked before taking the witness stand. Mills also refused to be sworn in, even after the judge cautioned Mills about criminal contempt and assigned him counsel.
Mills did agree to take the oath the following day, but claimed he had no recollection of the information he had previously given authorities.
In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy said the justice system depends on witnesses giving truthful testimony in court and when it does not happen, the system breaks down and justice cannot be served.
"We cannot and will not allow that to happen," Kennedy said. "Truth is the voice of justice. Hopefully, this prosecution and today’s sentencing sends a loud and clear message to the community that the men and women of my office, together with our law enforcement partners, will do all that we can to protect the rule of law and to ensure that the truth is never silenced.”