A DEATH IN THE DESERT

BILL GRAVELL DIED OF TWO GUNSHOT WOUNDS TO THE CHEST. HIS FELLOW COPS SAY IT WAS SUICIDE, BUT HIS WIDOW--AND THE GOVERNMENT--DISAGREE.

"My immediate concern was him," Wolff says. "I didn't look at the gun. I should have looked to see whether anybody else was around."

Bill Grant did just that. After running to his fallen partner and feeling in vain for a pulse, Grant's police training took over. He drew his gun. "I felt like I was the only one really looking for a bad guy," he recalls.

The chief did another odd thing. Although he contacted the Pima County Sheriff's Office--routine in officer shootings--he apparently didn't want to make a big deal out of it. Sheriff's detective John Sanders remembers, "I overheard Chief Wolff say, `Well, all we need is one homicide detective,' which to us was very strange. Which means for some reason it wasn't unknown what had happened, or wasn't that important for whatever reason."

By the time Sanders showed up in Oro Valley--after Gravell had been taken away by paramedics--the cops on the scene had made several mistakes, perhaps following Wolff's lead in treating the death as a suicide:

Officer Ed Holdinsky grabbed Gravell's gun and moved it several feet from its original spot. Because of this, no one knows for certain exactly where Gravell's gun was in relation to his body. Holdinsky moved the gun, he wrote in a police report, "so it would not be kicked or moved around or dislocated from its original position." Holdinsky's mistake became even more glaring when an analysis of the weapon turned up only one identifiable fingerprint--Ed Holdinsky's.

At about the time Holdinsky was moving Gravell's gun, Oro Valley officer Joe Corona moved Gravell's portable radio from near the body to a curb. Corona's fingerprint was the only one identifiable on the radio, another mystery. Someone else apparently took Gravell's sunglasses from his face and placed them on his car.

Minutes after Gravell's body was taken away, a group of tourists from a nearby resort hotel trampled through the unbarricaded crime scene on horseback.

Within an hour after Gravell's death, police had already interviewed the people he'd seen that morning.

"He seemed better today than he had been," Oro Valley court clerk Joan Harphant told investigators. "It looked like he had some sparkle in his eye."

Another court clerk, Dottie Tucker, noticed Gravell had been a bit wobbly on his feet. But she also said the detective hadn't seemed unduly depressed.

Local magistrate Royal Bouscher, however, had seen things far differently. "I saw in Bill's eyes defeat," he told police. "I think Bill was a trifle weepy. He was not the same positive Bill Gravell that he's always been in the past."

SENIOR U.S. BORDER patrol agent Dave Lewis arrived at the death scene a half hour after Gravell called for help. He wanted to start tracking immediately, but sheriff's investigators asked him to wait until they processed the crime scene. That request seems absurd in light of the moved evidence and the tourists on horseback, but Lewis obeyed. While he waited, the tracking expert and author of the agency's manual on tracking overheard investigators speaking of Gravell's death as a suicide.

He said later there was more than enough lag time between the shooting and the arrival of police helicopters for a suspect to have been long gone. Finally, Lewis got the go-ahead to start tracking.

The first thing he did was to walk directly in front of Gravell's car. Police procedure says to keep a suspect in front of you during a stop. Lewis discovered small amounts of blood spattered in front of the car. A sheriff's detective said paramedics had carried Bill Gravell on a gurney to an ambulance in that direction. But Lewis' 25 years of experience in law enforcement told him this blood hadn't dripped off a stretcher. It was from a gunshot.

Lewis continued to walk in a line away from Gravell's car. He soon found distinct tracks in the dirt, about 25 feet in front of the car and about ten feet beyond the end of the pavement. The tracks indicated that someone had been walking away from the car toward a six-foot wall. That person had pivoted suddenly on his heel, Lewis said, before he got to the wall.

Much later, after seeing photographs of the distinctive pull-on shoes that Bill Gravell had been wearing, Lewis testified Gravell had been the one who had whirled around. On the other side of the wall was a pile of human feces and a dirty rag that someone had wiped himself with. Lewis later determined that the feces could not have been more than four hours old when he'd examined it. Could Gravell have relieved himself behind the wall moments before he killed himself?

But the pivoting footprint indicates he never made it to the wall. And, his wife says, Bill was an extremely fastidious person. She says she cannot imagine his doing something like that.

An attorney later asked Dave Lewis during Kathy Gravell's Industrial Commission hearing if there was enough evidence for him to conclude that someone besides Bill had been at the death scene.

"There was somebody else at the area, within an hour or two," Lewis testified. "Absolutely."

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