Philadelphia should cap off its overhaul of its court system by creating indicting grand juries and trying fugitive defendants in absentia, a veteran former prosecutor said Monday. In a double-barreled presentation to a state Senate advisory panel, Walter M. Phillips Jr. said the moves would crack down on witness intimidation and send a strong signal encouraging defendants to show up for court. Phillips detailed his proposals at the latest session of a volunteer panel of judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, academics, and other experts established to recommend changes to the Philadelphia courts in response to an Inquirer investigative series, "Justice: Delayed, Dismissed, Denied." The 2009 series painted the city's criminal courts as broken - rife with victim and witness fear, disrespected by thousands of defendants who routinely skipped court, and marked by some of the nation's lowest conviction rates. At the time of The Inquirer's series, 47,000 defendants were at large - and the court system was owed $1 billion in forfeited bail. To combat the most serious cases of witness intimidation, Phillips said, Pennsylvania should again permit prosecutors in the state's 67 counties to use grand juries to indict defendants. In selected cases, these proceedings would replace the current open preliminary hearings.