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BCA: Cold Spring officer slaying would have ended in arrest

By PATRICK CONDON, Associated Press

ST. PAUL (AP) — Evidence in the slaying of a Cold Spring police officer would have supported the arrest of a suspect who later committed suicide, state law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced Tuesday that authorities have completed the active portion of the investigation into the Nov. 29, 2012, shooting death of Officer Tom Decker. The case will remain open in case new information emerges, the agency said.

The BCA said Eric Joseph Thomes of rural Cold Spring would have been arrested on murder charges had he lived. The agency had previously only called Thomes a person of interest in the case. . He fled from investigators and killed himself on Jan. 2.

"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," according to a press release from the BCA. The agency released the information after consultation with the Stearns County Sheriff's and Prosecutor's offices.

Decker was shot and killed behind a bar in downtown Cold Spring, a town about 4,000 people about 75 miles northwest of Minneapolis. He was responding to a report of a possibly suicidal man when he was hit by shotgun fire.

An initial suspect — the man 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 suspect was involved in Decker's death. The agency also said there is no known connection between the initial suspect and Thomes related to the crime.

Investigators had interviewed Thomes several times about Decker's slaying after a tip stemming from a $100,000 reward for information in the case. BCA Superintendent Wade Setter previously said investigators found inconsistencies in Thomes' responses, and were seeking to interview him again when he fled to a metal outbuilding on his property. Agents attempted to make contact with him over several hours then entered the building to find he had hanged himself.