Arlington's county manager has rescinded a request from the chief of police for grand jury help in solving the murders of a young Arlington couple slain more than a year ago.
W. Vernon Ford's decision, following prolonged discussions over three days with Chief Roy C. McLaren, is the latest development in a bitter dispute over how authorities should proceed in investigating the deaths of Alan Foreman and Donna Shoemaker, who were found shot to death in Foreman's garage on May 8, 1977.
McLaren's request for an investigative grand jury, made in a letter to Circuit Court Chief Judge William L. Winston, was "just one additional break in the communication link," Ford said in an interview yesterday. "We have to reweld that."
Ford said that the reason he rescinded McLaren's request was that the information police are seeking through an investigative grand jury can be obtained by other means, including the use of subpoenas and search warrants.
McLaren sent the request to Winston last Monday, following repeated attempts by top police officials to get Commonwealth's Attorney William S. Burroughs Jr. to seek an indictment of the police department's top suspect.
Burroughs is not convinced that police have enough evidence for a grand jury to indict anyone for the murders, and his stand prompted police to complain to the Virginia state attorney general's office in April. As a result of those complaints and others, the Virginia State Police are investigating Burroughs' role in the murder investigation.
Against this backdrop, McLaren sent his letter to Winston without informing either Burroughs or Ford.
Ford, who describes himself as a mediator in the dispute between the police and commonwealth's attorney, said yesterday that Mclaren's request "was going to break down my effort to build a working relationship. You don't build communication by putting surprises on people."
McLaren said Friday be "didn't think it [his request] was a problem." He had sent a copy of his letter to Burroughs, who was out of town.
When Burroughs found out about it, he was enraged. "The timing is wrong, the purpose is wrong," he said earlier this week. "The Arlington police investigation [of the murders] is not finished and they're gonna finish it come hell or high water."
Burroughs is known to believe that the police were trying to go around him, and according to informed sources, the police were trying to do just that.
McLaren, while essentially refusing to comment to reporters all week, did say repeatedly that he was "standing by the letter."
Rank and file police officers close to the investigation have been incensed that Ford intervened. "This is a police matter and he is sticking his nose where it doesn't belong," said one police source.
Reached at home last night, McLaren said he did not know the details of Ford's decision or whether it "is what I wanted." He declined to comment further. Ford had said on Friday that he would have an announcement on his decision Monday, after Winston was informed by letter.
The two Republicans on the five-member county board said they were puzzled over the developments last week. "I'm very discouraged that I wasn't notified," said Dorothy T. Grotos Friday night. "I'd like to know who is running this county anyway?"
At yesterday's County Board meeting, Republican member Walter L. Frankland Jr. demanded an explanation of Ford's role in the matter. After two hours behind closed doors with Ford, the board went back to other business and later Frankland, responding to a reporter's question, disclosed Ford's decision. Frankland said he was satisfied with Ford's action.
A state police official said late Friday that the agency's investigation of Burroughs is not completed and he would not estimate when it would be.
One man was prosecuted by Burroughs for the murders of Foreman and Shoemaker and was acquitted after a two-week trial that ended in October. Police then reopened their investigation into the killings.