Turn state's evidence

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To turn state's evidence is for an accused or convicted criminal to testify as a witness for the state against his associates or accomplices.[1] Turning state's evidence is occasionally a result of a change of heart or feelings of guilt, but is more often in response to a generous offer from the prosecution, such as a reduced sentence or a favorable location for serving time. In particularly high-profile or dangerous cases such as organized crime trials and other federal crimes trials, witnesses may be offered immunity from prosecution even if they have committed serious crimes themselves, sometimes even murder. The state may also offer the witness a place in the witness protection program, giving them a new identity, so they need not fear retaliation from their former accomplices.

In the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms, the term is to turn Queen's or King's evidence, depending on the reigning monarch's gender.

In India (and historically in the British Isles) the term turning approver is used for someone giving full disclosure about a crime in return for pardon under Sections 306 to 308 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, though the term is not used in the Code itself.

Famous cases[edit]

Witness Testified against Charge(s) Received for testimony
Salvatore "Sammy The Bull" Gravano, mob hit man John Gotti Racketeering Witness protection, after 5 years in prison[2]
Frank Lino of the Bonanno crime family Joseph Massino Murder of Sonny Black Napolitano  ?
Salvatore Vitale of the Bonanno crime family Joseph Massino Racketeering, Murder Witness Protection
Frank Coppa of the Bonanno crime family Joseph Massino Racketeering Was allowed to keep $1.7 million in personal assets and a townhouse in Florida.[3]
(In 2002, Coppa became the first Bonanno made man to turn state's evidence.[4])
Richard Cantarella of the Bonanno crime family Joseph Massino Tax evasion  ?
Joseph Massino, Bonanno crime boss Racketeering, Murder No death penalty
"Easy Eddie" O'Hare, mobster Al Capone Tax evasion According to some sources,[according to whom?] his son Butch's admission to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis
Henry Hill, mobster Paul Vario and Jimmy Burke Racketeering charges Immunity from prosecution and Witness Protection for Hill and his family
Harry Orchard, mass murderer William "Big Bill" Haywood Assassination of former governor of Idaho Frank Steunenberg  ?
James Leibrant, accessory to murder Karla Faye Tucker Murder of Jerry Lynn Dean and Deborah Thornton Full immunity
James Jordan, Klansman and accessory to murder 18 other Klansmen including Neshoba County deputy Cecil Price Murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner Full immunity, $3500 and help in relocating himself and his family
Christie's auction house Sotheby's Commission rate-fixing Protection from criminal prosecution (for the business—
however the former chairmen of both companies were indicted)
Linda Kasabian, driver of the getaway car in the Tate/LaBianca murders Charles Manson and other members of the Manson Family Multiple murders Immunity from prosecution
James "Dick" Liddil, bank robber, murderer and member of the James-Younger gang Jesse James Robbery and murder immunity from prosecution
Daniel Tucker Bassham, member of the James-Younger gang William "Whiskey Head" Ryan, member of the James-Younger gang Robbery and murder 10-year sentence commuted, released from Missouri State Penitentiary
Wayne DuMond, rapist Various acquaintances Murder Pardoned by Gov. Mike Huckabee
John Dean Richard Nixon and others Watergate 1–4 years in prison. Served in a "safe house" at Fort Holabird
Robert Rozier, murderer and cult member Hulon Mitchell, Jr. (Yahweh ben Yahweh), cult leader Murder and racketeering Reduced sentence
David Greenglass, spy, passed information about the Manhattan Project to... ...Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Treason, espionage Immunity for his wife, who served as his courier
Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, Mafia hit man Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, members of Murder, Inc. Murder No death penalty
William Hare, the West Port murders in Edinburgh, Scotland William Burke Murder Immunity from prosecution

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pomeroy, John Norton (1876). "State's Evidence". In Barnard, Frederick A. P. Johnson's new universal cyclopædia a scientific and popular treasury of useful knowledge. New York; Pittsburg, Pa.: A. J. Johnson & son. p. 495‒496. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  2. ^ Maas, Peter. Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia. New York, N.Y.: HarperPaperbacks. ISBN 0-06-109664-4.
  3. ^ Marzulli, John (January 29, 2005). "MASSINO SANG FOR MONEY Talking don seen in fed shocker". New York Daily News. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  4. ^ Marzulli, John (2005-04-10). "The Rise & Fall Of New York's Last Don. Pale. Bloated. Shuffling". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2012-03-31.