An attorney for Thomas Solheim of Montauk, who died last month, said he is trying to clear Mr. Solheim’s name in a “cold-case” arrest in 2010 in connection with the 1992 murder of a fellow sailor. “It’s really not anything that’s good for Tom; it’s a little late for that,” said the defense attorney, Andy Savage of Charleston, South Carolina, “but for his family and his friends.”
Mr. Solheim, 56, was found unconscious by a church member at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church in Montauk on January 10 and pronounced dead at Southampton Hospital. East Hampton Town Detective Lieutenant Chris Anderson said the cause of his death was still being investigated, but that there seemed to be no evidence of foul play.
The manager of the Montauk IGA from 1992 to 2004, when he stopped working for medical reasons, Mr. Solheim had served in the Navy from 1974 to 1992, according to Mr. Savage. Almost 28 years later, Mr. Solheim was arrested at home in Montauk, but never indicted, in connection with the murder of James Alan Horton, a 22-year-old sailor, in Charleston. Mr. Horton was found face down in water with his hands tied behind his back, Naval Criminal Investigative Services said at the time of Mr. Solheim’s arrest. The victim had been shot in the chest, they said.
No suspects were detained or arrested at the time, according to Mr. Savage. Then, about three years ago, Mr. Solheim and three codefendants were arrested. Mr. Solheim was charged with murder, rape (described as criminal sexual conduct in South Carolina) and kidnapping, according to Mr. Savage.
“The whole thing was a fraud,” the defense attorney said. “They took DNA from everybody who had been arrested. There was no basis for it. We thought it was just a harassing technique.”
At the time of Mr. Solheim’s arrest, officials said they hoped new advances in DNA technology would help solve the case, and Mr. Savage said that claim, coupled with assertions that it was a homosexual homicide, generated a lot of sensation. Then, “when they got the results they just didn’t tell anybody” for about nine months,” he said. “None of these four defendants was involved.” DNA samples had been taken from ropes the victim had been tied with, he said.
“Tom was never indicted, which is highly unusual, and he would never have been prosecuted because of the delay,” Mr. Savage said. Mr. Solheim was released on $60,000 bond and flew to New York on July 1, 2011. Although he was allowed to work and live in his home state, he was subject to a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and had to wear electronic monitoring bracelets, according to Mr. Savage. Early last year, when Mr. Solheim had surgery at Southampton Hospital, he was allowed to have the bracelets removed.
“The case had long since fallen apart,” Mr. Savage said. Going to church was one of the few unrestricted and readily available activities his client could pursue, and Mr. Solheim would call his attorney’s office frequently both to report his whereabouts or to inquire about one of the 12 people working at the office. “He used to call here and say, ‘Heather, I’m going to the rosary,’ or ‘I’m going to the Stations of the Cross,’” Mr. Savage said.
Mr. Solheim was obsessed with not violating any conditions, Mr. Savage said. “He was obsessed with these charges, and mind you, he had nothing to distract him.”
“We really liked Tom,” the attorney said. “He was much more than a client; we had a pretty close relationship with him.”