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Inquiry Into El Toro-Based Colonel’s Shooting Death Reopened by Marines

Eleven months after a Marine Corps colonel reportedly killed himself amid a scandal over use of military planes, the Corps has surprised its critics by reopening the investigation into his death, officials said Friday.

The Marine Corps apparently decided to reverse its position because of pressure from James E. Sabow’s family, who maintain that the former assistant chief of staff at the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro may have been murdered. Officials have repeatedly rejected this claim, asserting that the evidence showed Sabow killed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun Jan. 22.

Sabow had been suspended five days earlier amid allegations that he had used base aircraft to ferry furniture to his son and take other personal trips. A source close to the review confirmed Friday that the colonel’s fingerprints were never found on the shotgun. The source said only the fingerprints of Sabow’s son, who had last cleaned the gun, were identified on the weapon. But the source added: “That’s not unusual. . . . You’ve got fingerprints, and then you’ve got readable fingerprints.”

The Sabows have no direct evidence to suggest the colonel was murdered. But they say Col. Sabow had pledged to fight the charges against him just minutes before his death in phone conversations with other officers.

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