Agents Honored for Work Investigating Sheriff's Murder

By: 13 News
By: 13 News

Three law enforement officers have been awarded a special honor for their work on a case that involved the death of a fellow law enforcement officer.

ATF agent Neal Tierney of Wichita and KBI agents Bill Halvorsen of Topeka and Robert Jacobs of Wichita received the "Guardian of Justice" awards for their work on investigating the death of Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels.

U.S. Attorney Eric Melgren presented the awards during a luncheon Wednesday.

“They could not have known on that cold day in January 2005 that the killing of Matt Samuels would dominate their lives for the next three years,” Melgren said.

Samuels was shot and killed Jan. 19, 2005. Authorities said Samuels was serving arrest warrants at a home where Scott Cheever was allegedly producing methamphetamine. Prosecutors say, tipped off that Samuels was coming, Cheever waited at the top of the stairs and shot Samuels twice with a .44 caliber revolver. In January 2008, Cheever was sentenced to death for the crime.

“It would be a pleasure simply to thank these outstanding law enforcement officers for their work,” Melgren said. “It is even more satisfying to draw everyone’s attention to what they have done and to say: We should all try to do our jobs like this.”

The "Guardian of Justice" awards are the highest recognition the U.S. Attorney's office gives to a member of the law enforcement community. Nominees are selected for outstanding service provided in the prosecution of significant cases by the United States Attorney’s office.

Statement from U.S. Attorney's Office, describing each honorees role in the Samuels' case:
At the scene of the killing, Halvorsen was placed in charge. His job was to bring order to the chaotic situation on the day of the murder and to manage the investigation during the following days. When Cheever surrendered, Halvorsen took charge of him. The detailed reports Halvorsen produced would become critical later at trial when Cheever argued that he was too intoxicated by drugs to know what he was doing when he killed Samuels. While Halvorsen interviewed Cheever in the back of an ambulance, he noted that Cheever would act confused when asked questions about the crime, while at the same time he seemed clear headed when answering medical questions from the EMTs.

Later, Halvorsen obtained a key piece of evidence in the case. It was a letter that an inmate in the Lyon County Jail had received from Cheever. Halvorsen negotiated the receipt of the letter, which turned out to be a description of the killing written by Cheever while he was in the Lyon County Jail. Again, Cheever’s detailed recollections flew in the face of his drug intoxication defense.

Robert Jacobs worked mostly behind the scenes on the investigation, following leads and concentrating on preparing for the penalty phase of the trial, which prosecutors believed would be the most difficult part of their work. Even if Cheever’s defense of drug intoxication was not successful in preventing him from being convicted, it could still be used to argue that he should not receive the death penalty.

“Robert was very steady,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lanny Welch, who assisted the Kansas Attorney General’s office in the prosecution. “He was always there when we needed him.”

Tierney was the face of federal law enforcement during the investigation. The way he worked with state, local and other federal law enforcement officers helped head off turf battles and keep the focus on building a case against Samuels’ killer.

“I mean this as a compliment – Neal is a man without an ego,” Welch said. “He works hour after hour and he doesn’t waste time worrying about whether he’s going to be recognized for it or not.”

Tierney’s job at the crime scene was to examine firearms and run traces. In fact, he did anything he could to assist the investigation, large or small. He suggested constructing a model of the house where Samuels was shot. The real house burned down before trial and the model became a valuable tool for showing the jury exactly what happened during the shooting.

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