Sheriff says questions remain in officer’s slaying

Published 9:30 am Monday, September 9, 2013

ST. CLOUD — The investigation remains open into the slaying of Cold Spring Police Officer Tom Decker because two significant questions remain unanswered, Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner said in an interview published Sunday.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension last month said there would have been enough evidence to arrest Eric Joseph Thomes if the 31-year-old had not killed himself in January when investigators tried to re-question him because his previous responses to their questions had proved to be untruthful. The BCA determined that a shotgun found on property Thomes had access to was the gun that killed Decker.

But Sanner said that’s not the last word because of the unanswered questions.

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“’What was the motive?’ and ‘Did the shooter or shooters act alone?”’ Sanner said. “We owe it to the community and the families involved to make absolutely every effort to provide answers to these questions. … So, be patient.”

Decker, 31, was shot and killed last Nov. 29 behind Winner’s Bar in downtown Cold Spring. The Cold Spring Police Department retired his badge number, and scores of community members turned out to line the roads of his funeral procession. His name was added to the National Peace Officers Memorial in Washington. He left behind his wife, Alicia, four children from a previous marriage, and his parents.

Because it remains an active case, Sanner said there are many specifics he still can’t discuss to protect the integrity of the continuing investigation.

Decker was slain while on a call to check on the welfare of Ryan Larson, the initial suspect in the case, who lived above the bar. Larson was arrested the night of the shooting but later released without being charged. Larson has asked for an apology and to have his name cleared.

Sanner acknowledged that nobody from his office has ever told Larson he’s been ruled out as a suspect.

“With the information that law enforcement had at the time, sufficient probable cause existed to arrest Mr. Larson,” the sheriff said. “As the investigation continued, the evidence gathered did not support a formal charge. Thus, Mr. Larson was released from custody, providing proof that the checks and balances built into our criminal justice system do, in fact, work. Although not perfect, I believe that the criminal justice system that we have in place in the United States is the best in the world. And for that, I will not apologize.”