Thursday, June 19, 2008

Murder he wrote

Well, the Judge ruled that Col. Shue's death was a homicide.

It will be interesting to see what will happen as a result of this determination.

Judge says Shue death a homicide
By Zeke MacCormack: Express-News

BOERNE — A lawsuit trial judge’s statement Wednesday that Air Force Col. Philip Shue “was murdered” in 2003 sent shockwaves through this town, where his widow long has fought the official ruling of suicide.

Kendall County Court at Law Judge Bill Palmer also absolved USAA Life Insurance Co. of any negligence in his death, as Shue’s widow, Tracy Shue, had claimed.
Both sides saw vindication in Palmer’s ruling that USAA had acted properly and that Shue’s death was a homicide.

“That’s all I ever wanted. It’s been about the truth,” Tracy Shue said as she left court.

It’s unclear if Palmer’s finding will prompt authorities to reopen the case. And Palmer couldn’t be reached after to explain his announcement at the sudden, unexpected end of a lawsuit that Tracy Shue had brought against USAA.

The trial was expected to last six weeks, but the jury was dismissed after both sides agreed to let Palmer — who’s familiar with the evidence after five years of pre-trial hearings — decide the case.

Palmer, who also has reviewed the lawsuit’s 2,100 exhibits, ruled quickly after both sides rested.
In comments from the bench he said Shue “was murdered,” while his written judgment calls the death a homicide. Neither gives any explanation for the finding.

“Palmer said it was a homicide? Unbelievable,” said Kendall County Constable Don White, whose wife, Nancy White, had ruled Shue’s death a suicide in 2005 when she was justice of the peace.
“If Palmer has evidence there was a homicide, don’t you think he should notify law enforcement instead of making a statement in a civil trial?” White asked. “It’s ridiculous.”

Shue, 54, had been mutilated and had duct tape on his wrists before the 2003 car crash in which he suffered a fatal head injury.

Tracy Shue claimed her husband was abducted and tortured while en route to work at Wilford Hall Medical Center, where he was a psychiatrist.

She accused USAA, which had issued a $500,000 policy on Shue, of wrongful death and negligence for not canceling it when Shue told the company that his ex-wife, Nancy Shue, who owned the policy, might kill him for the proceeds.

USAA spokesman Paul Berry cheered Palmer’s rejection of lawsuit claims that the firm was negligent when it advised Col. Shue to tell police, get a lawyer and let his military superiors know about anonymous letters warning his life was in danger.

“We have said all along that USAA handled the Shue policy correctly and the lawsuit had no merit,” Berry said.
He said USAA had no duty to cancel the policy or investigate Col. Shue’s claims of death plot warnings.

USAA attorney Bill Ford last week told jurors the warning letters may have been penned by Col. Shue himself.
He noted Shue’s death was deemed a suicide by military investigators, the medical examiner and White, the justice of the peace, who declined comment Wednesday.

Tracy Shue’s supporters hope Palmer’s ruling leads to a federal inquiry, or revives the local criminal investigation.

Kendall County Chief Deputy Matt King wasn’t aware of new evidence pointing to a homicide but said he’ll likely consult with District Attorney Bruce Curry.

Curry said Palmer’s judgment gives no facts to support the homicide conclusion, adding, “I guess we could call the judge to the grand jury to hear his reasoning.”

The investigation has been closed since grand jurors reviewed the case in 2003.
Former Kendall County Sheriff’s Lt. Roger Anderson testified last week that foul play likely befell Shue, but said the colonel also could have staged his abduction and then died accidentally in the crash.

Palmer’s order that Tracy Shue recover nothing from USAA doesn’t matter, said her sister Leslie Weber, noting her sibling never wanted “their filthy money,” only the truth about Shue’s death.

“Now there’s a flashlight shining at the truth,” Weber said. “We know Col. Phil was murdered.”
Juror Richard Schmidt, 49, agreed with Palmer’s ruling.
“I don’t believe (Shue) could have mutilated himself, and I don’t believe any man who was going to commit suicide would have his seat belt on,” Schmidt said.

Juror Christy Rodriguez, 32, said she was leaning away from suicide, but didn’t hear enough to be convinced it was a homicide.

Nancy Shue and Northwestern Mutual, which also issued a $500,000 policy on Col. Shue, were initially defendants in the suit. Tracy Shue reached a settlement with Nancy Shue and Northwestern in 2005 that saw Nancy Shue receive the proceeds of both policies.

“That’s astounding,” said Virgil Yanta, Nancy Shue’s attorney, when informed of the trial’s sudden ending. “It just seems like a lot of time and resources were expended for no good reason. They ended it with nothing being resolved.”