By Mike Carter / The Seattle Times
In a rare move, a federal judge has ordered a pair of high-ranking Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors to testify about how they improperly solicited incriminating testimony from a key witness in the 20-year-old investigation into the shooting death of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales.
U.S. District Judge James Robart, who has already reprimanded the government for being careless, now says jurors in the trial of Shawna Reid will be allowed to hear how federal prosecutors improperly instructed her to incriminate herself. The judge granted a motion by Reid’s attorneys to subpoena the two Washington, D.C.-based prosecutors to testify at her trial.
Reid, 35, is not a suspect in Wales’ death, but is believed by prosecutors to have information about a purported hitman hired to carry out the killing.
Indeed, Robart seemed skeptical about the future of the prosecution — the only charges brought so far in an investigation that began in 2001 — given the problems with the government’s case, a pandemic-delayed court schedule and the relative severity of the charges Reid is facing. No trial date has been set and all federal jury trials are currently postponed due to COVID-19.
“I don’t understand why this case is still pending,” Robart said during a telephonic hearing Thursday, while acknowledging the depth of emotions that surround the case, which has been unsolved and under investigation by an FBI task force for two decades.
Robart said that, by the time the case will be heard, Reid — who has been jailed twice but is currently on supervised release — will have “served most of her sentence” if she’s convicted.
“This is a very favorable ruling,” said attorney Michael Nance, one of Reid’s lawyers. “Shawna Reid has next to nothing to contribute to this investigation.”
The case is under the supervision of a special prosecutor, Steven Clymer in New York, who has acknowledged in court filings that his trial attorneys made a “single, imprecise remark” when warning Reid in front of the grand jury that she must tell the truth, even if it involves incriminating herself.
Reid’s attorneys argue that remark, and the questioning that followed, were meant to intimidate Reid, violated her rights and amount to misconduct.
Clymer did not return a telephone message left at his office.
In an order reprimanding the Department of Justice in August, Robart said he was “thoroughly unimpressed with the carelessness exhibited by the government in this case” but declined to dismiss the indictment. Now, however, Robart will allow Reid to put the prosecutors on the stand and walk them through their mistake as part of her defense.
Matthew Hoff, a trial attorney with the DOJ’s Organized Crime and Gang Section in Washington, D.C., said the prosecutors’ testimony is unnecessary and won’t help Reid prove her assertion that she was confused and intimidated during her testimony, since they wouldn’t be able to testify to her state of mind.
Hoff did not respond to a telephone call made to his office at DOJ headquarters.
The indictment of Reid, of Everett, in August 2019 by a Seattle grand jury was seen as a possible break in the frustrating case. Wales was fatally shot in his Queen Anne home the night of Oct. 11, 2001, while sitting at a computer in what federal agents believe was an assassination.
Reid is believed to have information about an individual identified as “Suspect #1” in court documents. Reid reportedly told FBI agents in an interview in August 2017 that the man had bragged about being involved in the murder of a “judge or attorney that lives on top of a hill.”
However, during her grand jury testimony in February 2018, Reid denied she had made those statements. Reid’s attorneys claim that the two veteran DOJ trial attorneys who were conducting the grand jury set up an improper “perjury trap” and misled Reid about a grant of immunity for her testimony and her right not to incriminate herself.
They then charged her with obstruction of justice and lying to a grand jury in hopes of forcing her to cooperate, according to defense pleadings.
Since early in the case, the FBI focused its investigation on an airline pilot whom Wales had prosecuted before he was killed.
No charge has been brought against the pilot, despite a reward of up to $1.5 million. Over the past 20 years, agents have conducted searches of homes where the pilot lived in the Bellevue area and Snohomish; conducted a nationwide effort to trace a unique gun barrel used to kill Wales; and an exploration into every corner of the pilot’s life. The investigation has involved extensive use of wiretaps and other surreptitious surveillance, according to sources.
If Wales was killed as a result of his job, he would be the first federal prosecutor killed in the line of duty in U.S. history.