The mother of three went out for cigarettes one afternoon last summer - and ended up in Philadelphia's witness-relocation program after her teenage cousin was shot to death right before her eyes.

Today, she has adjusted to a new life away from the city and says she will never return - except to testify.

"I'm so glad that I don't live in Philly no more," says Magetta, 38, who asked that her last name not be published.

Barbara Clowden and her family entered the witness-relocation program after her 16-year-old son, Eric Hayes, saw a man try to torch their house.

But mostly they stayed in Philadelphia, and Hayes was killed before he could finish testifying against the alleged arsonist.

"They felt like it was safer to move my family from one part of the city to another, and that cost my son's life," says Clowden, who has pleaded with numerous city officials to help her family leave.

In a city where fearful witnesses routinely refuse to point fingers, the witness-relocation program is an effort to make sure prosecutions can go forward - by getting witnesses out of harm's way.

But it is a modest effort compared with the federal Witness Security Program, which moves witnesses far away and gives them new identities.

Philadelphia's program, administered by the District Attorney's Office, relocated 73 families last year. The city used more than half a statewide budget of $1 million that District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham has been fighting to preserve.

Witness intimidation "is real, it is palpable, people feel it," Abraham told City Council last year. "They are terribly concerned that they will be killed, that their house will be burned down, and that their children will be harmed."

Law enforcement officials in other cities and states also are worried. Last month, New Jersey's witness-assistance program exhausted its meager $100,000 budget, alarming urban prosecutors. And in Baltimore, State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy says witness intimidation figures in 90 percent of her homicide cases.

The issue is now before Congress. A bill that would provide federal support for state and local witness programs has been reintroduced in the House by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.). Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) is sponsoring a similar bill.

Barbara Clowden

Clowden's story - a worst-case witness scenario - began with the attempted arson at her Southwest Philadelphia home in November 2005.

Alexander Wade, then 19, is scheduled for trial next month in the crime, which Clowden says was fueled by a dispute between her son Hayes and others, probably over a girl.

Initially reluctant to leave her neighborhood, Clowden entered the city's witness-relocation program after Hayes was assaulted.

"In January of 2006," she says, "I was saying, 'I don't want to leave my church.' " By February, she had moved.

The program often places families in hotels first. Then it's hoped that witnesses find safety in new homes and jobs near relatives, preferably out of the area.

That goal has eluded Clowden and her children, who have become urban nomads.

Clowden, who has a heart condition, lives on Social Security disability and can't return to the home she owned and could afford. And her efforts to get a voucher from the Philadelphia Housing Authority to help subsidize her rent outside the city have failed.

Clowden says witness relocation put the family in hotels for four months: first in Philadelphia and then - after Hayes was spotted and chased - outside the city.

The Office of Emergency Shelter and Services then took over, placing the family in a Northeast Philadelphia motel.

"They didn't put us in a shelter," Clowden says, "because they didn't want to put other people's lives in danger."

The family was miserable.

"We couldn't cook. We didn't have a refrigerator," Clowden says, and they were given a voucher for the four of them to eat at a pizzeria for $40 a day.

"I have a heart condition," Clowden says. "I can't eat at a pizzeria."

Clowden says the family's dream of a home drove Hayes to take a job at a McDonald's near their old neighborhood.

Then one morning in November, days before a hearing in the case against Wade, Hayes was gunned down at a bus stop near a house in the Northeast the family finally had rented.

Last month, police charged Thomas Dartoe, 15, with murder, criminal conspiracy and weapons violations. Police say they believe the shooting was in retaliation for Hayes' cooperation in the attempted arson.

After the killing, the District Attorney's Office put the family back in a hotel, then paid the security deposit on a house the family is sharing with another renter.

"Unfortunately," office spokeswoman Cathie Abookire said at that time, "there's a limit to what we can do because our resources are limited, but in this case, this family needs help, and we are helping them."

What Clowden can't fathom is why she hasn't been able to get a federal housing-choice voucher to subsidize her rent so she can move out of the city. She's on the waiting list with thousands of others. Meanwhile, she says, about $40,000 has been spent on her hotels.

Public housing authorities, who administer the vouchers, can give preference to those "involuntarily displaced," according to federal guidelines.

Kirk Dorn, spokesman for the Philadelphia Housing Authority, acknowledges that his office has been contacted by the city managing director's office about Clowden's situation and has decided not to help.

"We could make an exception if we wanted to," Dorn says. But he adds: "We are not funded to be the city's relocation program, no matter how sympathetic we are to Ms. Clowden's plight."

He says PHA would be "more than willing to help if the city would give us the money to help."

In the meantime, Clowden and her family are bracing for two trials next month, one for the arson attempt and one for Hayes' killing. And the word on the street, she says, is that her family is still in danger.

Philadelphia Councilman Jim Kenney says he believes the relocation program should have a $3 million revolving fund to help witnesses get away.

"We have a moral responsibility to help these people," he says. "They've got to go to Ohio, to Phoenix, to Texas - somewhere! . . . People need to see we're serious, not this moving from 19134 to 19127."

Magetta

Magetta stepped out of her rowhouse Aug. 22, and into a North Philadelphia nightmare.

One moment, it was a sunny afternoon, with women carrying plates of food into a church social. The next brought the crackle of gunfire, frightened drivers crashing cars at 25th and Cecil B. Moore, and a final, fatal confrontation.

In front of the church, Magetta saw her cousin Raphael Glee, 17, with his cousin Ijazz Adams. And on a bike, pointing a gun at them, according to her court testimony, was Michael Budd, then 21.

Budd, who has been charged with homicide, was aiming the gun from Glee to Adams and back "like he didn't know which one of them he was going to shoot," Magetta says.

Meanwhile, just steps from them, an elderly woman in a polka-dot dress had one eye on the young men as she retrieved a pan of string beans from her car.

"Ijazz is saying to Raphael, 'Shoot him, Ralph! Shoot him!' " Magetta says. "The lady say, 'You better not!' And Raphael looked at her."

In that moment of hesitation, with Glee's gun still tucked behind him in his waistband, he was shot in the forehead, ending his life two days before his 18th birthday.

His mother, Chelena Hammond, doesn't discount the church lady's influence: "My son," she says sadly, "had the utmost respect for older people."

Magetta had been backing away out of fear that Budd had seen her and that she'd have to be a witness. Instead, she rushed to her cousin, unable to stop herself.

She'll never forget what happened next:

I was talking to him but not realizing all these people were listening. . . . "I seen him, Raphael. Don't worry about it! They'll get him! Don't try to talk to me now," I'm telling him. "Keep breathing! Keep breathing!"

The detective grabbed my hand. . . . They were all over me like roaches. "You saw who did it. You have to come with us. . . . The faster you tell me what you have to tell me, I'll get you out of here. . . . Certain details you mentioned, I KNOW you saw this." I'm like, "No, I didn't see this!" He's like, "Yes, you did. You described the dress, the color of the bike.

Budd was arrested, then released. Homicide detectives did not notify the panicked Magetta. Later, she says, they apologized to her.

Magetta, a health-care worker, entered witness relocation, and Budd was again taken into custody.

After a brief hotel stay, Magetta and her children moved in with relatives outside the Philadelphia area while looking for a home.

Renting was tough; Magetta had to tell prospective landlords that she was a witness because the program's reimbursement for some of her housing costs would not come until later.

"A lot of people turned me down," she says. "They don't make excuses. They just never called back."

Her children kept asking, "Why can't we go to North Philly? Why can't we visit our grandmother?" She found herself changing, becoming more secretive. "I used to be the kind of person that would talk to a tree!" she says. "Not anymore."

Unlike Clowden, Magetta has settled into a new life. The house she shares with her fiance and children is some distance from Philadelphia - and light-years from the inner city. The quiet, so disconcerting at first, is almost a comfort now.

After Magetta testified at a preliminary hearing for Budd last year, she and Glee's mother embraced. "When she hugged me," Hammond says, "I could feel her heart on mine. It was beating so fast, it felt like she was going to jump out of her skin."

As she waits for the trial, Magetta has no regrets.

"I'm not just doing this because Raphael is my cousin," she says. "I'm doing this because this is another African American in the city shot down senselessly."

For slide shows and articles about Raphael Glee, Eric Hayes, and other area youths killed by guns last year, go to http://go.philly.com/guntoll

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Contact staff writer April Saul
at 215-854-2872 or asaul@phillynews.com.