Copyright 1997, The Spokesman-Review
Scientific tests show that a bullet from a federal agent’s gun killed Sammy Weaver at the outset of the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff.
Boundary County Sheriff Greg Sprungl made the disclosure Wednesday, finally answering the 5-year-old mystery.
The bullet that killed Randy Weaver’s 14-year-old son came from a submachine gun fired by Deputy U.S. Marshal Larry Cooper, Sprungl said.
“It’s a bullet from Cooper’s gun, and it’s conclusive,” the sheriff said.
Ballistic tests tie the bullet to Cooper’s gun, Sprungl said. “Trace evidence” on the slug found in the woods convinced experts it was the one that had passed through Sammy Weaver’s body.
The sheriff wouldn’t discuss the “trace evidence” on the bullet, but there are indications it’s clothing fibers, not blood or DNA samples.
There is no evidence that the deputy marshal saw Sammy Weaver before firing the deadly shot, Sprungl said.
The shootout that began an 11-day siege also left Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan dead from gunshots fired by Kevin Harris, who was living with the Weavers.
Randy Weaver was a federal fugitive who had refused to go to court. A team of federal marshals on a surveillance assignment got involved in the gunfight Aug. 21, 1992.
The following day, Weaver’s wife, Vicki, was killed by an FBI sharpshooter, who now faces involuntary manslaughter charges in Boundary County.
A state murder charge against Harris was dismissed on Oct. 2, but Boundary County authorities still wouldn’t answer the question, “Who killed Sammy Weaver?”
The sheriff answered that question after repeated formal requests for the information were made of him and county Prosecutor Denise Woodbury by The Spokesman-Review.
Woodbury wouldn’t return telephone calls to discuss the finding, but authorized the sheriff to make the disclosure.
Randy Weaver, who now lives in Montana, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Harris said he wasn’t surprised.
“I don’t have a reaction,” said Harris, now a metal worker in Republic, Wash. “I knew all along it was his bullet.”
The bullet that killed Sammy Weaver was found by a sheriff’s team on Nov. 1, 1995, two months after a Senate hearing left unanswered the question of who shot the teenager.
Sprungl took the bullet to Luke Haag, a forensic and ballistics expert in Phoenix, Ariz. He previously was hired by the Justice Department and Senate Judiciary Committee to analyze bullets involved in the Weaver shooting.
“Because of his previous knowledge of this case, he agreed to conduct these tests for free if I’d take him on a fishing trip here in Boundary County,” the sheriff said.
The sheriff announced in May 1996 that he’d found the bullet that killed Sammy Weaver, but the test results have been a closely guarded secret as the prosecutor prepared her case against Harris.
Cooper and another deputy marshal told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee in September 1995 that they believed Randy Weaver may have shot his son.
“I did not fire at Samuel Weaver,” Cooper told senators in sworn testimony.
A month later, the newly appointed sheriff returned to the ridge near Naples, Idaho, where the FBI conducted its own searches in late 1992 and again in 1993.
The sheriff, using wooden stakes and colored string, conducted an exhaustive grid-search, lasting more than 25 days over five weeks before snow fell.
The searchers literally combed every inch of the rough terrain with two metal detectors.
The sheriff said his team of five volunteers, including an Eastern Washington University graduate student, found four bullets fired from Cooper’s 9mm Colt SMG rifle, equipped with a silencer.
“We found the bullet that killed Sammy Weaver in the general area where deputy Cooper said he had fired,” the sheriff said.
Cooper fired two bursts - one three-round blast at Kevin Harris and a second, two-round blast in another direction in a wooded area where Randy Weaver disappeared.
Sprungl said his searchers also found more than three dozen other pieces of evidence, including bullets and casings unrelated to the shooting.
An FBI evidence team earlier searched the brushy, hilly terrain around Weaver’s Ruby Ridge cabin and found one of the five bullets fired by Cooper’s weapon.
The sheriff wouldn’t speculate why his band of untrained volunteers could find evidence missed by FBI evidence-gathering experts.
“People can interpret it as they like,” Sprungl said.
The sheriff’s search team included Deputy U.S. Marshal Dave Hunt, who was the case agent originally assigned in 1990 to arrest Weaver after he failed to show up in court.
The U.S. Marshal’s Service contributed Hunt’s salary and a $4,000 grant to cover costs of the search.
“That went a long way to show, in my mind, their interest in determining who fired the fatal bullet, even if it was one of their own guys,” Sprungl said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Drawing
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.