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Murder of Police Officer Tied to Black Panthers By: Paul Gustafson and Howie Padilla and Curt Brown
Minneapolis Star Tribune | Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Jeanette Sackett-Monteon got some peace of mind Friday night. It was more than 34 years in the making.

"I'm so elated, I don't know if I can talk," she said Saturday morning at a news conference to announce arrests in the killing of her husband, St. Paul officer James Sackett. "When I first heard, all I could do was cry. I'm good at crying.

"I've cried for almost 34 years."

Officials at the news conference were tight-lipped about the details that led to the indictment and arrests of Ronald L. Reed, 54, and Larry L. Clark, 53.

The path to the arrests was largely set in 2002, officials said, declining to elaborate.

Authorities arrested Clark around 3:30 p.m. Friday in Minneapolis and booked him into the Ramsey County jail.

Reed was arrested about 9 p.m. in Chicago and is being held in the Cook County jail in Illinois.

They are each charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner said she expected no obstacles in extraditing Reed from Illinois.

"We expect a swift return to Minnesota," she said.

An elite team of investigators and local and federal prosecutors responsible for other successful murder prosecutions are handling the case.

The team includes Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen and St. Paul police Sgt. Tom Dunaski, who served as lead investigator on the Sackett case.

Paulsen and Dunaski worked on the successful prosecutions of gang members who murdered five children of Terri Coppage in a 1994 arson fire in St. Paul. They also cracked a 1996 shooting at a St. Paul gas station that killed 4-year-old Davisha Brantley-Gillum.

In those cases, intensive surveillance and use of federal telephone wiretaps by a joint task force of local police and the FBI resulted in federal drug charges that led several gang members to cooperate in the murder prosecutions. A similar local-federal task force is working on the Sackett case.

U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger noted those cases Saturday but refused to say whether separate prosecutions for federal crimes are being used to gain witness cooperation in the Sackett case.

Authorities also declined to discuss a motive for the shooting.

"I expect at the trial there will be some discussion of what motivated this horrific crime," Gaertner said.

Sackett, 27, was fatally shot in an ambush May 22, 1970. He had been on the force for 18 months and was working his first shift after the birth of his fourth child, who was 3 weeks old at the time.

He and officer Glen Kothe responded to a call to police from a woman who said her pregnant sister was going into labor and needed help.

When they arrived to 859 Hague Av., a sniper ambushed Sackett, killing him with a single shot.

"It's one thing for an officer to walk in and be confronted by deadly force," St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington said at Saturday's news conference. "It's another to be cowardly shot in the back."

Friday's arrests were not the first in the case. Five months after the shooting, Connie Trimble, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, was charged with first-degree murder.

Although she was later acquitted in the case, she testified during the trial that she made the fake emergency call at the request of a man whom she refused to identify, saying that she feared for her life and for her 8-month-old baby.

Trimble testified that she was living with Reed -- her boyfriend and the father of her baby -- at the time of Sackett's slaying. But, she said, neither Reed nor Clark was with her when she made the call.

During Trimble's trial, authorities identified Reed as a black militant. A social worker testified that she saw posters in Trimble's apartment that advocated killing "pigs" and "whitey."

Although Trimble was acquitted, Gaertner said that one should not draw comparisons between the cases.

Gaertner said Saturday that although there are some difficulties in prosecuting a case 35 years after the crime, there are benefits as well.

"We expect people will be more forthcoming than they were 35 years ago," she said, adding that past agendas and loyalties may weaken with time.

Kothe said Saturday that he knew the truth would come out, but he didn't know if there would ever be arrests.

"People die and things happen as time passes," he said.

What the case had going for it, Kothe said, was a determined lead investigator in Dunaski.

"He told me two years ago that he was not retiring until this case was done," Kothe said.

Former Police Chief William Finney, who was a student at the police academy on the first anniversary of Sackett's death, also hailed investigators for their hard work.

"For those detectives, this was never a cold case," he said. "They always kept it warm until they got some resolution."

He knew Reed growing up in St. Paul and remembered him as a "bright kid from a good, well-respected family."

"Like many people, he was an activist, probably on the militant end," Finney said. "Those were radical times. White kids, blacks kids, all kids were antiwar or antipolice. That was the times."

Despite Sackett's dangerous job and the politically turbulent climate of 1970, his widow said, she never imagined her husband would walk into harm's way.

"I really didn't worry about him getting killed," she said. "Jim always wanted to be a police officer. That's what he lived for and he was good at it and he liked it."

Paul Gustafson, Howie Padilla and Curt Brown write for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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