Updated: 08/06/2013 4:47 PM KSTP.com By: Jennie Olson
A man who committed suicide after he was questioned in the shotgun slaying of a Cold Spring police officer would have been arrested on suspicion of murder charges had he lived, state investigators said Tuesday.
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension isn't closing the investigation into the November 2012 shooting death of Officer Tom Decker. But "investigators have compiled evidence that would have resulted in Eric Joseph Thomes' arrest for the murder of Officer Tom Decker had Mr. Thomes not taken his own life," the agency said in a news release.
The agency previously referred to Thomes as person of interest in the case. Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner, whose office helped with the investigation, said the case would remain open because there are still unanswered questions.
"The two big questions would be, did the shooter act alone? And what was the motive?" Sanner said Tuesday.
Decker was shot and killed the night of Nov. 29 behind a bar in downtown Cold Spring, a town of about 4,000 residents about 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis. He was responding to a report of a possibly suicidal man when he was hit by shotgun fire.
Ryan Michael Larson, who Decker had gone to check on, was arrested but soon released without charges. The BCA said Tuesday that sufficient probable cause existed for that arrest, but that no further evidence has since come forward suggesting that Larson was involved in Decker's death.
The agency also said there is no known connection between Larson and Thomes related to the crime.
Investigators interviewed Thomes several times about Decker's slaying after they received a tip implicating Thomes from someone interested in the $100,000 reward for information that could lead to an arrest. They were attempting to interview him again on Jan. 2 when he fled to a metal outbuilding on his property and hanged himself.
Sanner wouldn't discuss the evidence against Thomes, since the case is still open. But BCA Superintendent Wade Setter previously revealed that investigators found the shotgun used to kill Decker on property that Thomes had access to. Setter also said investigators found inconsistencies in Thomes' responses to their questions.
A phone message left at a number that apparently belongs to Thomes' parents was not immediately returned Tuesday. According to his obituary in the St. Cloud Times, Thomes, 31, graduated from Rocori High School in Cold Spring, and was a welder who was active in his labor union.
Decker, 31, also grew up in the area and was a six-year veteran of the Cold Spring Police Department. He was also the father of four. More than 3,000 people attended his funeral service, and the state has renamed a stretch of highway near Cold Spring in his honor.
An attorney for Decker's widow said she didn't want to comment on the latest developments.
Sanner said his department would continue to pursue leads and look for information that would bring greater closure to the case.
"Is it frustrating? Sure it is," Sanner said. "Would I like to close the case and say it's all done? Yup. But I want to do right by the family and the community, so we're going to at least keep trying to get answers."
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