Widow Suing Marines Says Probe Botched

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The widow of a high-ranking colonel who the military said killed himself in 1991 testified Wednesday that she believes her husband's death was not a suicide and that top U.S. Marine Corps brass refused to answer questions about the death investigation.

Appearing in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Sara Sabow, 55, said she was emotionally devastated by the way the military handled the death of her husband, James E. Sabow. The 51-year-old colonel at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station died of a gunshot wound to the head in the midst of a military probe into the misuse of aircraft.

"I was absolutely devastated. I had no more faith in the Marines," Sara Sabow testified. "I felt I had no more friends, that nobody was there to help us."

Sabow and her family have filed a lawsuit against the military seeking $10 million in compensation for the emotional distress they allegedly suffered because of the Marines' handling of Sabow's death.

Family members said that high-ranking officers used intimidation to keep the family from "going public" by speaking to the news media about their suspicions. They said they filed the lawsuit in the hope that a public airing of the case would expose what they allege was the military's poor handling of the investigation.

U.S. District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler disallowed any questions regarding the death investigation, however, citing previous rulings that found the criminal probe irrelevant to the Sabows' civil case.

One of the original investigators in the criminal case, Lt. Col. Anthony Verducci, testified Wednesday. The family's attorneys had said he would reverse his initial finding of suicide, but opposing lawyers' vigorous objections prevented him from answering questions.

Verducci said after the hearing that many questions about Sabow's death remain unanswered. He declined to say whether he believes another investigation is warranted.

Sabow's death occurred in the midst of allegations that officers at the Marine base were using planes for unauthorized personal reasons. Sabow was one of two senior officers suspended early in the investigation.

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