Ten years after federal prosecutor Thomas Wales was fatally shot in his Seattle home, Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI officials will announce Wednesday a broad campaign to elicit tips in one of the nation's most perplexing unsolved killings.
Ten years after federal prosecutor Thomas Wales was fatally shot in his Seattle home, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI officials on Wednesday will announce a broad campaign to elicit tips in one of the nation’s most perplexing unsolved killings.
Holder is expected to reiterate that the investigation remains a top priority of the Justice Department at a Seattle news conference.
“This is a really important case to us,” said Gregory Fowler, the FBI official who will outline a campaign of broadcast, print, online and billboard advertising.
“Primarily, what we’re hoping to do is spark a memory that someone may have around the time of the murder,” Fowler said.
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Fowler, who runs the bureau’s Portland office and has been designated to oversee the case, declined to discuss specific progress in the investigation. But he said the media campaign is timed to “certain investigative aspects and consideration,” particularly the anniversary of the Oct. 11, 2001, shooting.
Wales, 49, a longtime prosecutor and anti-gun-violence activist, was divorced and living alone when he was shot while working at his computer in the basement of his Queen Anne home. The assailant stood in the backyard and fired several shots through a window about 10:40 p.m. A witness saw a man run to a vehicle that sped away.
While multiple suspects have been investigated and more than 15,000 leads pursued, a task force of FBI agents and Seattle police detectives focused on an airline pilot who was bitter over being prosecuted by Wales.
However, after an intense investigation that included at least three searches of his home, the pilot remains uncharged and a law-enforcement source said serious doubts have arisen within the task force as to his culpability, leaving it unclear whether the FBI has any viable suspects at this point.
Fowler, however, said the case remains “very active” and continues to get the support it needs.
Holder’s appearance underscores the importance attached to the case: If Wales was killed because of his work, he would be the first federal prosecutor in U.S. history to be slain in the line of duty.
Wales’ daughter, Amy, 32, said she and brother Tom, 34, will appear at the news conference. She will implore anyone with information to “be brave and find the courage” to come forward.
“We the family, in particular my brother and I, will do whatever it takes to stand by and support the investigation, however long it takes.”
Fowler said the investigation is “moving forward,” but acknowledged it is a “very, very difficult case” with “unique challenges and obstacles.”
Earlier calls for public help have not led to a break, despite a reward of up to $1 million offered by the Justice Department since early in the investigation.
Fowler denied the campaign, similar to one unveiled at the fifth anniversary of the slaying, is a gambit to jump-start a stalled investigation. Similar tactics have worked in other cases, including the 17-year hunt for “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, he said.
Without giving the reason, Fowler said the FBI believes people have information about Wales’ killing but don’t appreciate the significance, or have knowledge but are afraid to come forward. “It’s time for them to do the right thing,” he said.
They can provide information confidentially or anonymously, Fowler said, noting that one piece of information could “tie a thousand loose ends together.”
Pilot draws attention
It was only hours after the shooting that attention focused on the pilot, who along with several business partners had been the target of a hard-fought and not entirely successful prosecution by Wales on charges the group had illegally converted a military helicopter for civilian use. The charges against the individuals were dropped and the company pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a fine.
The pilot sued, alleging malicious prosecution, and sought more than $125,000 in legal fees. The suit, pending when Wales was killed, was later rejected by a judge.
The pilot has denied through his attorney any involvement in Wales’ killing.
A phone call made from the pilot’s Bellevue-area house about the time of the shooting suggested he couldn’t have killed Wales unless he hired a hit man.
In 2006, the Seattle FBI office received an anonymous letter from Las Vegas in which the author wrote in detective-novel style that the killing was carried out by a hit man, a claim the FBI discounted as an attempt to throw off investigators.
The letter was postmarked about the same time the pilot was in Las Vegas. But that now appears to be a bizarre coincidence, the law-enforcement source said.
Fowler, the FBI official, declined to discuss the pilot, emphasizing he wanted to leave open all possibilities.
Gun barrel sought
The search continues for a unique gun barrel used in the killing, which ballistics experts said had been fitted on an Eastern European pistol called a Makarov. The FBI has tracked a majority of about 2,600 of the barrels sold before the slaying.
Fowler, previously an FBI counterterrorism official in New York, took over the case when named head of the Portland FBI office in August. FBI headquarters removed the investigation from the Seattle office in 2006, amid an uproar over that office’s plan to reduce the number of agents assigned to the case.
As part of the campaign, tips will be solicited through email, the telephone and a postal box, said Russ Fox, who has supervised daily work on the case for two years.
Fowler said it will take “a significant degree of moral courage” for some people to come forward. “Those involved in the investigation believe that there are people out there with important information and we’re asking them to come forward — to overcome their doubts, to overcome their fears and to come forward, not only for us and the sake of the investigation, but for the family, for the children Tom left behind, for the community as a whole,” he said.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
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