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A DEATH IN THE DESERT

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But Tom Henry didn't change his mind--at least officially--and the Gravell case remained a suicide.

TUCSON ATTORNEY Michael Moeller says he was reluctant to take on Kathy Gravell's workers' compensation case when she came to him in 1989.

"I thought it was a loser, to be frank," Moeller says. "But the lady was so committed, so pathetic in some ways, that I told her I'd give it my best shot."

Moeller went to war against the Oro Valley Police Department and the Pima County Sheriff's Office. He called expert witnesses who quarreled with the official point of view. And, according to the state Industrial Commission's Judge Baum, many of his witnesses were extremely persuasive.

"I conclude that Mr. Gravell did not have either premeditated or `spur of the moment' suicidal intent when he was shot on March 28, 1989," Baum wrote in his decision last year. "In agonizing over this case, I read at least twice every one of the over 1,000 pages of testimony . . . It is this materially faulty investigation and resulting materially faulty conclusions which so weakened the case."

Judge Baum's watershed ruling opened many doors for Kathy Gravell. Senator Dennis DeConcini wrote to the Arizona Peace Officers Memorial Board, supporting the placement of Bill Gravell's name on the state's memorial. Kathy Gravell received $103,890 from the Department of Justice because her husband was "slain in the line of duty." Two life-insurance policies also netted Gravell another $12,500.

(Shortly after Bill's death, the Oro Valley Town Council had voted to give Kathy Gravell $7,500. Bill Gravell hadn't been in Oro Valley for the two years necessary to qualify for the payoff, but the council waived its requirement.)

Kathy Gravell left Oro Valley less than a year after her husband died. "I just had to get out of there before the anniversary of Bill's death came up," she says. She moved to the small town of Montrose, Colorado, where she is working as a secretary at a mental- health center.

However, the wounds caused by this sad affair still fester in her and in many at the Oro Valley Police Department. "I don't know if it was suicide or murder," says one officer. "We'll never know, will we? It's time to move on."

Kathy Gravell understands that sentiment. But she adds, "I have to do what I have to do." That means she'll be front and center next Tuesday when the Arizona Memorial Board considers what in the world to do with the strange case of Bill Gravell.

Moments before he died, Gravell radioed in for emergency assistance from a secluded parking lot near a trailhead in the Coronado National Forest.

Pima County sheriff's investigators had bungled the Gravell case badly enough to cloud many crucial details, probably forever. "I knew Bill for a long, long time, and my whole basis from the start was that he couldn't do it, he couldn't kill himself."

His hair fell out and he became a ghostly figure. The couple spoke of renewing their marriage vows in a ceremony a few weeks down the road. To Chief Wolff, Bill Gravell's death wasn't an unsolved mystery. It was suicide.

He requested backup in a disturbed, clearly frightened tone of voice. "Assist officer, assist officer. I need help!"

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

"She said, `He just shot and killed a cop. Whatever you do, don't talk to anybody and don't tell anybody.'

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin