Family of Slain Prosecutor Frustrated
Oct. 11, 2002
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SEATTLE (AP) _ A neighbor heard the late-night gunshots and saw the assassin hustle to his car, leaving behind spent shell casings and a dying federal prosecutor.
But a year later, despite a high-profile investigation and the promise of a $1 million reward, the FBI doesn't know who killed Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Crane Wales, or why. The apparent lack of progress in the case has frustrated those who knew him.
Wales, 49, was slain as he sat at a computer in the basement of his home the night of Oct. 11, 2001. The gunman fired at least four shots through a window, striking Wales in the torso and neck.
The investigation has led agents on a tour of Wales' personal and professional relationships. They've looked into dozens of white-collar crime cases he handled, and at his work as president of Washington CeaseFire, a gun-control organization.
``The lack of progress in the criminal case has made any type of closure impossible,'' says Mark Bartlett, a prosecutor who had worked with Wales since 1985 and once climbed Mount Rainier with him.
Despite their work looking for potential terrorists following the Sept. 11 attacks, FBI officials in the agency's Seattle office say they have made the case a top priority. Four agents and support staff are dedicated to solving it. In fact, the agency lists it as a ``major case'' _ a designation given to fewer than 200 cases in the FBI's 94-year history.
``Obviously this is a real concern to us, and as such, it will be solved,'' said FBI spokesman Ray Lauer. ``We have full confidence in this.''
Investigators have eliminated many potential suspects. But, Lauer confirmed, among those who have not been eliminated is a 41-year-old commercial airline pilot from Bellevue.
The pilot, who owned several guns, was involved in a business that sought to build civilian helicopters using military parts. Wales had prosecuted the company and the pilot for fraud. Eventually, the company pleaded guilty, but the charges against the pilot were dropped.
The pilot then sued the government, seeking to recover more than $125,000 in legal fees for its ``mean-spirited, collateral attack'' on his character. A U.S. District Court judge denied the claim. The pilot is appealing the case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his pleadings, the pilot wrote that the case had taken over his life.
``My house was searched in 1997 by several armed agents,'' he wrote. ``As a result, my reputation within this tiny community has already suffered a great deal.''
In response, the government called his claim a ``transparent attempt to obtain information concerning the identity of all witnesses who would have testified against him,'' and said some witnesses had made reference to his ``violent and retributive nature.''
FBI agents believe the pilot may have been further angered by a television appearance Wales gave two weeks before his death. In the interview, which aired repeatedly on Northwest Cable News, Wales argued against arming airline pilots, and, without mentioning anyone by name, said he knew pilots who weren't qualified to carry guns in the cockpit.
The FBI searched the pilot's home in December; the results of the search have been kept secret. He has refused to be interviewed by agents and, through a lawyer, declined to speak with The Associated Press.
Lauer denied, however, that the man has become the prime suspect.
``We're not totally focused in on him or on any one person,'' Lauer said. ``There are other avenues we are looking at.''
As the investigation grinds on, friends and family are honoring Wales, known for his cooking skills and love of fruitcakes in addition to his sturdy integrity. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, where he worked for 18 years, was scheduled to name its conference room and an in-office award after him at a ceremony Friday. Washington CeaseFire, which has raised $400,000 for its Tom Wales Endowment Fund, planned to have supporters plant daffodils around Seattle's Green Lake on Saturday.
U.S. Attorney John McKay said that professionally, what Wales did was no different from what the other 63 prosecutors in his office do _ and that's part of what made his assassination so scary.
``For our staff, it's hard,'' said U.S. Attorney John McKay. ``It hurts a lot and that's exacerbated by the fact that no arrest has been made.''
But Wales' friends and family said they remain confident an arrest will be made.
``There will be an arrest, and the person who assasinated Tom will be brought to justice,'' Bartlett said. ``I couldn't sleep if I didn't believe that.''
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