After nearly four years of investigation, Boundary County authorities say they found a key piece of the Ruby Ridge puzzle - the bullet that killed 14-year-old Sam Weaver.
“We believe we do have the bullet that went through him (Sam), and we have conclusive evidence that shows which weapon fired that bullet,” Sheriff Greg Sprungl said. “It’s a big leap in this case.”
Who shot Sam Weaver is one of the major questions left unanswered from Randy Weaver’s standoff with federal agents in August 1992.
The latest evidence could determine whether criminal charges are filed in connection with Sam Weaver’s death.
Neither state and federal investigators nor a congressional hearing on the standoff ever proved who killed the teenage boy. He was shot in the back during the initial gunfight that erupted below Weaver’s mountaintop cabin. That gun battle also left Marshal William Degan dead.
Federal agents speculated Sam Weaver was shot by his father or family friend Kevin Harris during the flurry of gunfire. Weaver and his attorneys insist the fatal shot came from a federal agent’s gun.
Sheriff Sprungl and Boundary County Prosecutor Randall Day declined to say which side is right or what type of weapon fired the bullet.
“All I can say is we have recovered ballistic evidence that could tell us who shot Sammy Weaver,” Day said. “The investigation is ongoing.”
A five-week search near Weaver’s cabin last year turned up several dozen pieces of new evidence, including the bullet, Sprungl said.
The bullet was tested by an Arizona ballistics expert who said he found “trace evidence” to prove it was the same one that hit and passed through Sam Weaver.
Authorities already know what type of weapons federal agents and Randy Weaver and Harris carried the day of the standoff. Now they plan to reconstruct the shooting to try to determine which direction the shot came from and who fired it.
“After that we will present our findings to the prosecutor to determine if there was any criminal conduct,” Sprungl said. “I anticipate a federal grand jury will also look into all the evidence we have collected.”
He referred to a pending federal investigation of the Weaver incident, still under way.
Finding the bullet was difficult because Sam Weaver’s body was moved shortly after he was killed. Investigators had little idea where the shot came from or where the bullet might have ended up, Sprungl said.
Last year, the sheriff interviewed Randy Weaver and went to the Naples, Idaho, cabin with him. Weaver showed him where his son was standing when he was shot.
In November, Sprungl gathered a team for a five-week search of the brush and trees where the gunfight occurred. He was helped by marshal Dave Hunt, who was involved in the initial gunfight, an agent from the state’s Criminal Investigation Bureau and a resident with a metal detector.
The team recovered about 40 pieces of evidence, including the bullet.
“Looking for a needle in a haystack would have been easy,” Sprungl said. “This was more like looking for a needle in hayfield. We dug up everything from nails and sawblades to BBs.”
Sprungl and a state investigator took the new evidence to Luke Haag, a ballistics expert in Arizona. He previously worked on the Ruby Ridge investigation with the FBI, and U.S. Attorney General’s office.
Haag found “trace evidence” on the bullet that could prove it was the one that killed Sam Weaver, Sprungl said. The sheriff would not say if Haag found blood or fibers from clothing on the bullet or if the bullet was found in a tree or on the ground.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further on our findings at this time, but the search couldn’t have been more productive,” Sprungl said.
In the next few months Haag plans to travel to Idaho to help Sprungl recreate the shooting. Haag’s services are expensive, but Boundary County and Haag cut a deal so that his work will not cost the taxpayers any money. Sprungl did not elaborate about the arrangement.
Since the investigation began, the county estimates it’s spent less than $8,000 on the case. The county had budgeted $100,000 for the investigation last year.
Day has drawn much criticism for not making a decision on whether to file charges in the deaths of Degan, Sam Weaver or his mother, Vicki Weaver, who was killed by an FBI sniper.
“There are those that have speculated I’ve been bought off by the feds, that I’m afraid to file and every reason in between,” Day said. “But the investigation is ongoing, we have some preliminary reports back that are very interesting and I can’t tell when it’s all going to be done.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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