PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As of March 2022, there were more than 18,000 open arrest warrants across nearly 10,000 criminal cases in the state of Rhode Island, according to data provided by the R.I. Courts.
The crimes range from minor offenses like possession of marijuana to capital offenses like sexual assault and murder.
A Target 12 analysis shows there are roughly 485 open cases for capital offenses and five of them are for murder.
Shawndell Burney-Speaks knows the narrative all too well. Her son Devin Burney was shot and killed outside a Providence club in 2017.
John E. Nunez, the man police say pulled the trigger, is on the run and currently one of Rhode Island’s most wanted fugitives. He is one of two people charged in the case. The other is John Minaya, who is currently serving a nine-year sentence at the ACI.
“There’s a lot of injustice. It seems unfair,” Burney-Speaks told 12 News. She still remembers the night she learned her son was shot through a call from his then-girlfriend.
“She called screaming hysterically on the phone and was saying that he had been shot,” Burney-Speaks recalled.
Burney didn’t make it. He later died from his injuries.
Stephen Dambruch, chief of the criminal division at the R.I. Attorney General’s Office, said there are always significant outstanding warrants, but they’re not all equal.
“There are substantive crimes and there are those that are for costs,” he said.
There are several designations when it comes to types of outstanding warrants. The AG’s office can designate a warrant to apply only in Rhode Island, or it can be applied for the whole Northeast, or a warrant can be nationwide, which is the largest designation and how Nunez is listed.
“When someone flees the jurisdiction of Rhode Island and goes to some other state, we rely on the assistance of the U.S. Marshal Service who has a presence throughout the United States and in fact worldwide to assist us in tracking down those individuals,” Dambruch explained.
According to the data analyzed by Target 12, there are 9,900 active criminal cases in which someone is wanted. Under Rhode Island law, anyone with a criminal charge short of a capital offense is entitled to bail while awaiting trial.
Dambruch said that’s why a large number of open warrants can exist at any given time.
“Most of the defendants do get released on bail and they commit to the court they’ll return on their designated court dates,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t.”
However, for Burney-Speaks, who is living without her son, she believes it’s unfair that his killer is roaming free.
“Knowing that the person who actually pulled the trigger is out living his life, and able to speak to his mom, and speak to his siblings, and be free is ridiculous to me,” she said.
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Burney-Speaks also said she will continue to fight for stricter gun laws. She believes there needs to be more oversight when it comes to gun ownership, and tougher punishment for people who take part in a murder.
“Twelve years for taking a life, when people are doing 50 years and 100 years for selling drugs,” Burney-Speaks added. “Please, tell me, where is the value in my Black son’s life?”
According to Dambruch, the prosecutor in the Nunez case is working daily with several agencies to find him.
If you have any information on his whereabouts, contact the Violent Fugitive Task Force:
Anonymous tip line: (401) 921-8131
Task force line: (401) 921-8130