Shawna Reid has a flair for telling fibs, like dressing up a résumé with a job she never had or, according to a family member, making up stories about a relative.
For the most part, people have forgiven and forgotten, considering all she’s been through in recent years, including a devastating personal tragedy.
But the government doesn’t forgive. And it never forgets — not when it comes to the unsolved murder of a federal prosecutor.
Reid, 34, was arrested Tuesday, charged with making a “false declaration” to a grand jury and obstruction of justice for allegedly changing her story about information the FBI and Seattle police say she has about a suspect in the 2001 shooting death of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales on Seattle’s Queen Anne hill.
According to the indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, Reid twice lied under oath to the grand jury. Prosecutors say she denied telling investigators she had spoken with an individual identified as “Suspect #1” who “bragged to you about [their] involvement in the murder of a, quote, judge or an attorney that lives on top of a hill, end quote.'”
The indictment does not identify “Suspect #1,” who is known to the FBI.
Now, Reid is facing up to 10 years in prison. The Everett woman pleaded not guilty in an appearance before a U.S. magistrate judge Tuesday.
The indictment appears to be a break in the 18-year investigation into the slaying of Wales, 49, who was shot multiple times through a basement window in the backyard of his Queen Anne home the night of Oct. 11, 2001, as he sat typing at a computer.
The investigation, which has gained what is known as “special case” status within the FBI, quickly focused on an airline pilot whom Wales had unsuccessfully prosecuted for fraud. The homicide investigation stalled. The Seattle Times has not named the pilot because he has never been charged.
While the pilot has remained central to the investigation of a task force that is looking into the killing — to the point where it ran an elaborate undercover operation to try to get him to incriminate himself — agents in recent years have shifted from believing he personally carried out the shooting to concluding he likely hired a hit man.
Investigators have turned their attention to a “very small group” of people they believe know of the conspiracy, sources with knowledge of the investigation have told The Seattle Times.
That, the sources say, is where Shawna Reid comes in. They believe the shooter bragged to her at some point, and they’ve gone to great lengths to gain her cooperation. A review of recent developments in the investigation demonstrates just how far they’ve gone.
According to the indictment, when Reid was interviewed by two members of the so-called SEPROM (Seattle Prosecutor Murder) task force on Aug. 23, 2017, she told them the suspect had bragged to her about murdering an “attorney general” who lived on top of a hill. She was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury on Feb. 28, 2018.
Six days before she testified, then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — then No. 2 at the Department of Justice — appeared in Seattle alongside the Wales family to “bring continued and deserved attention” to the Wales investigation, and to announce that a reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction had been increased to $1.5 million.
Jay Tabb, then-special agent in charge of the Seattle FBI office, said at the news conference: “We know that there are people out there with pertinent information and we are pleading to you to come forward and provide that information, no matter how small it is.”
But the reward carrot didn’t work and now the government has resorted to the stick: Charging Reid — the mother of two young children — with a crime that, if she is convicted, could send her to prison.
Reid’s grandmother, Sharon Finch of Grover Beach, California, said her granddaughter told her she was questioned by the FBI about a killing in the months before her arrest and feared going to prison. Nobody knew quite how to take it, Finch said.
“I hate to say it, but Shawna can tell stories,” Finch, 71, said in an interview Wednesday. “She’s had some real emotional problems,” driven by the drowning of her 3-year-old son on July 4, 2012, in Belleville, Illinois. Jordan Sicka was found at the bottom of a private swimming pool, and his grief-stricken father, Kevin Sicka, sued Shawna and his own grandfather, alleging they had failed to supervise the toddler. The lawsuit was dismissed.
“Losing that baby did something to her,” said Finch. “She’s had some problems.”
Finch said Reid had a tendency to exaggerate, and had made up a story about a relative.
Finch said Reid told her several months ago that the FBI “thinks she knows something about something, but she says she really doesn’t and she’s afraid she’s going to go to jail. I thought she’d made the whole thing up.” She was surprised on Wednesday to learn from a reporter that Reid had been indicted and arrested.
Finch also offered that her granddaughter “might be afraid” — a concern amplified when Finch learned of the $1.5 million reward in the case. “That makes me think she’s afraid. She loves money.”
“I mean, if you knew somebody who said they killed somebody, wouldn’t you be afraid?” she asked.
It’s clear from the court docket that efforts to persuade Reid to cooperate continued after her grand jury testimony. The court appointed an attorney to represent her in April, two months before she was indicted in June. The indictment was sealed — and the warrant was not served — until Tuesday.
After her court appearance Tuesday, she was released on her own recognizance pending trial.
Efforts to contact her by The Times were unsuccessful. Her attorney, Kevin Peck, declined to discuss the case.
Reid’s online job profile on LinkedIn said she had been employed for the past three years at the online home-improvement site Pro.com. However, Jill Boon, the vice president of people at the Seattle-based startup, said she had never worked there and nobody knew who she was.
Other employers she listed in recent years confirmed she worked for short stints at a radiator business and a gutter-cleaning service, according to people who asked not to be identified in discussing personnel matters.
After initially performing well at one of the jobs, she appeared to be overcome by depression stemming from the death of her child, one of the people said.
The sketch and the mystery man
The FBI’s path to Reid began in 2004, when agents learned that shortly before Wales was killed, one of his neighbors had reported a suspicious man in the area, according to a source familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to comment on the investigation.
The neighbor’s action wasn’t discovered until then because it had been made in person at a Seattle police precinct and the paperwork fell through the cracks, the source said.
Agents contacted the neighbor, who helped them produce a sketch. After trying unsuccessfully to identify the man, the FBI decided to make the sketch public during a news conference on the fifth anniversary of the shooting.
Officials said the sketch was of a man seen pulling a black nylon suitcase in Wales’ neighborhood weeks before Wales was killed. The man was described as white, in his late 30s to early 40s, 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall, with a slim build, black hair, tobacco-stained teeth and a chipped left front tooth.
It wasn’t known if the man had any connection to the killing, but even eliminating him as a subject would be helpful, an FBI supervisory agent said during the news conference.
At the time, the sketch wasn’t considered a significant break because investigators believed the pilot had personally carried out the shooting and he didn’t fit the description of the man.
The investigation continued, with agents launching an elaborate sting operation against the pilot several years later, modeled after an undercover technique called “Mr. Big” long used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the source said.
The goal of “Mr. Big” operations is to lure a suspect into a fake criminal enterprise, then get the suspect to participate in illegal activity and ultimately confess to past crimes to gain the trust of the head of the organization.
It was used to solve a 1994 triple killing in Bellevue in which two suspects who had moved to Canada confessed to undercover RCMP officers posing as “Mr. Big” crime figures.
It didn’t work with the pilot, although he joined in illicit activity and was tricked into helping to dispose of a fake, shrouded corpse that he believed was someone killed by the organization before figuring out what was going on, according to the source.
About that time, the FBI got a tip related to the sketch, which led them to the small group of individuals, the source said.
The FBI declined to comment on how it found Reid.
But the agency released a statement, saying, “Over the course of many years, the task force has released information to the public regarding this case, including the sketch of a person of interest” and a unique gun barrel believed to have been used by the killer.
“The FBI believes that additional information from the public can further this investigation,” the statement said, noting the reward money.