Justice Concludes No Evidence Of Crime In Ron Brown Death
By Terry Frieden/CNN
WASHINGTON (Jan. 8) -- The Justice Department has concluded there is no evidence to support suspicions a crime was involved in the death of the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.
Justice officials said they had consulted with the Defense Department in the past month and determined there was no reason to open an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Brown's death in a 1996 military plane crash.
The Justice Department's contacts with the Defense Department followed recent calls by prominent black leaders for a criminal investigation into allegations Brown may have died of a bullet wound.
Attorney General Janet Reno offered no details, but told reporters, "The department is not looking into the matter. If there is credible information developed that a crime has been committed, then we will pursue it immediately."
One senior official familiar with the case tells CNN there was no reason to pursue the matter further.
Brown and 34 others died when the Air Force plane in which they were traveling on a trade mission crashed into a mountainside in Croatia.
Black leaders, including the heads of the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus, urged the Justice Department to look into the matter after a report surfaced that a military pathologist claimed "a wound to the secretary's head may have been caused by a gunshot."
Controversial investigative journalist Chris Ruddy produced photographs last months purportedly showing a .45 caliber bullet hole in the top of Brown's head. Ruddy quoted a medical examiner at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell, as saying, "The whole thing stinks," and claiming he was overruled in calling for a post-mortem investigation.
A Justice Department official said he did not know whether the department had notified Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who chairs the Black Caucus, or other black leaders of its conclusions.
Jesse Jackson, Dick Gregory and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume had also called for an investigation into the case. They found unlikely support from several staunch conservatives and foes of President Bill Clinton. Moments before the Justice Department made its comments, an organization calling itself the Clinton Investigative Commission announced it had neared its goal of collecting 100,000 signatures on petitions in support of Waters' call for a formal inquiry into Brown's death.