A federal judge says prosecutors violated court rules and the law by failing to disclose key evidence to attorneys representing an Everett woman accused of lying to a grand jury investigating the 2001 killing of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales.
However, the judge found the failures don’t justify dismissing the indictment against her.
U.S. District Judge James Robart, in a 21-page ruling issued Wednesday, made it clear that the Department of Justice special prosecutors came close to losing their case against 37-year-old Shawna Reid due to negligence, before ever getting it in front of a jury. Reid is the first person indicted as a result of a 19-year FBI investigation into Wales’ slaying.
However, the judge concluded the errors were unintentional and could be remedied by granting the defense additional time to incorporate the new evidence into their case. That, he said, was accomplished when he postponed her trial last month.
“The government’s discovery errors are serious, and violate both the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the requirements of Brady,” a reference to Brady vs. Maryland, a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case that mandates prosecutors turn over any exculpatory evidence to the defense before a trial.
At issue is an audio recording of Reid’s grand jury testimony, which occurred on Feb. 18, 2018, where she was questioned about statements she purportedly made the previous August to an FBI agent and a Seattle Police homicide detective about a former boyfriend.
According to court documents, after Wales was killed Reid became involved with an older man, identified in court papers as “Suspect #1,” who purportedly bragged to her about being involved in the murder of a “judge or attorney that lives on top of a hill.” According to the indictment, Reid later told the agents the victim was “someone of importance, like a judge or attorney general.”
Wales, a white-collar criminal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle and a gun-control activist, was sitting at a computer in the basement of his home on Queen Anne Hill the night of Oct. 11, 2001, when an assassin shot him several times through a basement window and fled.
Reid’s defense attorneys asked for any recording or documentation of her testimony, and were originally given a written transcript of the proceeding. Based on that document, they sought dismissal of the charges, alleging prosecutors bullied Reid, misinformed her of her rights and confused her into incriminating herself. In doing so, they persuaded the court to issue subpoenas so they could question at trial the agents and prosecutors who were in the grand jury room at the time, to attempt to prove Reid’s confusion.
In early July, however, prosecutors turned up an audio recording of the grand jury proceedings, apparently made without their knowledge by the court reporter, according to court documents. Defense attorneys argued the recording proved what they had contended with the transcript — that Reid was confused and didn’t understand what was being asked of her.
Moreover, the defense claimed Reid eventually conceded to making those statements — even if they were wrong — and that she can’t be charged with lying when she’s admitted the issue.
Robart didn’t see it that way, saying her concessions “were equivocal and unclear” and that, while the discovery violation was serious, the disadvantage it served on Reid’s defense could be mitigated by giving them more time to prepare.
“She could fairly be described as conceding that she had made certain statements” to law enforcement in August “that contradict her earlier denials that form the basis for the perjury charges against her,” Robart wrote. “However, her statements are frequently hedged and contradictory” and don’t justify a dismissal.
Michael Nance, one of Reid’s attorneys, said in a statement Wednesday that the defense was pleased the judge recognized the discovery violations but was disappointed it didn’t lead to a dismissal of the indictment.
“This has been a ham-handed prosecution with a pattern of overreach and careless attention to basic prosecutorial duties,” Nance said.
By all accounts, Reid had nothing to do with Wales’ death — she was a teenager when Wales was killed. However, the FBI believes Reid’s story provides a key link in what investigators have called a “continuum” of circumstances and evidence pointing to a longtime suspect in the case — a former airline pilot Wales had once prosecuted in a fraud case they believed hired a hit man.
FBI officials have said they were looking at a “small group of people,” including a 50-year-old Snohomish County man thought to be the hit-man, when Reid was interviewed and subpoenaed to testify before a Seattle grand jury investigating the killing.
However, Reid, a troubled woman with a tragic past, has recanted and muddled her testimony, claiming she was confused, intimidated and tricked into committing perjury. Her lawyers insist she can offer nothing useful to the case.
The investigation into Wales’ death is one of the most extensive and long-lasting criminal investigations ever undertaken by the FBI, involving a task force of FBI agents and Seattle Police homicide investigators who have worked the case continuously since Wales was killed.