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Sheriff urges patience in open investigation into Cold Spring officer's death

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Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner says two key questions remain in the shooting death of Cold Spring-Richmond Police Officer Tom Decker, who died Nov. 29 in downtown Cold Spring, the St. Cloud Times reports.

Sanner says investigators are still trying to discover whether the person who killed Decker acted alone, as well as the motive behind the killing. Both questions, according to Sanner, surround Eric Joseph Thomes -- a person of interest in the officer's death who killed himself in January.

"We owe it to the community and the families involved to make absolutely every effort to provide answers to these questions," Sanner tells the Times, urging that people be patient with the investigation. "If you look at the big picture, this case is still relatively fresh compared to open investigations across the state and nation that are literally decades old."

The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced last month that there had been probable cause to arrest Thomes.

Thomes, 31, had been questioned multiple times before early January, when investigators returned for more inquiries. Thomes ran from officials and holed himself up in a outbuilding at his residence, and after several hours of trying to convince him to come out, they found he had hanged himself.

Investigators also found a 20-gauge shotgun on property that Thomes had access to. It was later determined by the BCA to be the weapon that killed Decker.

Sanner told the Times that Thomes was considered a "person of interest" in the case because he " provided remarkably different accounts as to his whereabouts on the evening Officer Decker was shot and killed."

"The investigation proved that the information provided by Mr. Thomes was both misleading and untruthful," Sanner says.

The initial suspect in Decker's death, Ryan Larson, was arrested the night the officer was killed and was later released.

Larson asked for an apology and to have his name cleared in the case. And while Larson was cleared last month, Sanner tells the Times the former suspect won't be getting an apology.

"With the information that law enforcement had at the time, sufficient probable cause existed to arrest Mr. Larson," Sanner says. Eventually, he added, the evidence gathered did not support a formal charge.

"Thus, Mr. Larson was released from custody, providing proof that the checks and balances built into our criminal justice system do, in fact, work," Sanner told the Times. "Although not perfect, I believe that the criminal justice system that we have in place in the United States is the best in the world. And for that, I will not apologize."

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