CBS/48 Hours ran this special investigative report on serial killer-FBI informant Scott Kimball. Kimball–a long-time felon–was sharing a prison cell and saw a photo of his cellmate’s girlfriend, Jennifer Marcum. Kimball concocted a story about a murder-for-hire scheme in order to secure his own release, and then–while working for the FBI as an informant–proceeded to murder Marcum and at least two other women. When Marcum’s parents approached the FBI with their suspicions, Kimball’s FBI handler dismissed them. This dynamic is one of the major dangers of informant reliance: not only was Kimball able to use his status as a jailhouse snitch to gain release based on fabricated evidence, but his snitch status and relationship with the government protected him, at least initially, from investigation.
This story reveals, among other things, that there are no clear lines between jailhouse snitches and working informants–one can morph into another and, all too often, take the government along for the ride. This fact should influence those states–including California, Illinois, and Texas, to name but a few– that are considering jailhouse snitch reforms. The same concerns about unreliability and criminal conduct are present whenever any criminal informant–in or out of jail–trades information in order to escape punishment for his own crimes.