Yesterday's announcement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder of a new campaign to find Tom Wales' killer is welcome news. As you might remember, the investigation got off to a lackluster start, at least in the eyes of former U.S. Attorney John McKay, the subject of this week's cover story. McKay's push for more action was initially one of the excuses given by the Bush administration for his firing. The reignited investigation raises a question, however: What happened to the feds' seeming certainty that a U.S. Airways pilot was behind the assassination of the former federal prosecutor?
FBI agents have searched the pilot's homes three times and hauled away clothes, cars and most of his shoes. They got the airline he worked for to ground him. They've also intercepted his phone calls, put him under surveillance, interviewed friends and neighbors -- even talked to the women he was dating.
Numerous press stories, some using unnamed federal sources, cited the pilot as the main suspect. One, in The New Yorker, named the pilot, something the local press had generally avoided because he had not been charged.
The pilot was known to be bitter at having been prosecuted by Wales on charges that he and his business partners improperly converted a military helicopter to civilian use, rendering the aircraft unsafe. Wales ultimately dropped the case due to problems with a witness.
Beth Steele, a spokesperson for the Portland office of the FBI, which is handling the amped-up Wales investigation, says her office won't comment on whether the pilot is still under investigation. An unnamed law-enforcement source now tells The Seattle Times that "serious doubts" have arisen as to whether their onetime chief suspect is their man.
The pilot has gotten his old job back at U.S. Airways and has "rebuilt his life," his attorney, Larry Setchell, tells SW this morning. He adds he doesn't want to pick a fight with the Justice Department now, applauding their renewed interest in this "important case."
Still, he says, "I'm waiting for an apology. There are two victims here. One is Tom Wales." The other, he says, is his client.