By Ihosvani Rodriguez and Wayne K. Roustan
FORT LAUDERDALE — After six years of chasing nearly 3,200 tips and leads in what is arguably South Florida's most high-profile unsolved murder, investigators in the slaying of Broward Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Reyka say they have narrowed their list of possible killers to one man.
A dead man.
In a sudden development in the longtime whodunit, sheriff's officials on Tuesday publicly pointed fingers at Shawn LaBeet, who was shot dead by police in 2007 after he fired on four Miami-Dade officers, killing one of them.
"Cop killer Shawn LaBeet is now considered the focus of this homicide investigation," Broward Sheriff Scott Israel announced at a press conference. "It's never been considered a cold case."
Reyka's youngest brother, Michael Reyka, was underwhelmed by the proclamation.
"I was a little disappointed they made a big deal out of what they've been saying before," he said. "They just named the suspect's name, that's all. A little more information, concrete information would have been more."
At the news conference, officials declined to detail recent findings that they said are "powerful and compelling" evidence of LaBeet's involvement.
They said there was a long list of connections between the known violent criminal and the circumstances surrounding the slain deputy's case.
Even though LaBeet is dead, the Sheriff's Office says it needs more help from the public to consider the case officially closed.
Most of the tips over the years named LaBeet as the killer, but detectives stopped short of calling him a suspect.
Detectives have set up a new hotline and reiterated that a $278,225 reward is still active. Sheriff's Detective John Curcio, who leads the investigation, said he wants to talk directly to the tipsters.
"If you have called in the past anonymously, we encourage you to call in again and speak to me," Curcio said, adding that callers can still remain anonymous.
Reyka, 52, a father of four from Wellington, was ambushed and killed in August 2007 in the parking lot of a Pompano Beach Walgreens in what has become one of the darkest episodes in the agency's history.
Unable to find the murder weapon or the vehicle used by the killer, detectives have had scant physical evidence to work with.
A month after Reyka's death, LaBeet, 25, was hunted down and killed on Sept. 13, 2007, in Pembroke Pines, a day after police said he shot and killed Miami-Dade Officer Jose Somohano and wounded three members from the officer's unit.
Curcio said that he wants to know if Reyka's slaying was LaBeet's underlying reason for opening fire on the Miami-Dade officers.
"In September 2007, Shawn LaBeet chose to go to war with law enforcement," Curcio said. "We are determined to find out whether the motive for what happened in Miami-Dade County lies here in Broward County."
LaBeet reportedly lived in Miami-Dade under the alias of "Kevin Wehner" for many years. LaBeet assumed the name in 2003 using a false identification. The real Kevin Wehner had absolutely no involvement in the case, Curcio said.
BSO detectives say LaBeet had strong ties to Broward County, specifically the Palm Aire community in Pompano Beach, not far from the murder scene.
LaBeet also had ties to the Oakland Park area, where a license plate was stolen and possibly was on the vehicle used by Reyka's killer, officials said.
Investigators revealed Tuesday that they have spoken to two witnesses who place LaBeet at a nearby business and an apartment complex the night Reyka was killed.
They also said they found a critical piece of evidence at a car wash in Oakland Park on Floranada Road, between Dixie Highway and the railroad tracks. The detective declined to say what the evidence was.
"When you look at all those factors plus others, that's the reason why Shawn LaBeet has become a focus of this investigation," Curcio said.
Earlier this year, Sheriff Israel said at his swearing-in ceremony that one of his top priorities was to solve Reyka's homicide. He said efforts to close the case have been "endless and non-stop."
"BSO is committed to leaving no stone unturned," the sheriff said.
A year after Reyka's killing, a memorial was installed in his honor at the store at 960 S. Powerline Rd.
Reyka's survivors are his wife, Kim, and four children: Ashley, Autumn, Spencer and Sean.
In September, Sean Reyka became a Broward Sheriff's deputy and patrols the same streets his father once protected.
The family attended Tuesday's news conference but declined to comment.
Michael Reyka, who didn't attend the news conference, said he felt bad for them.
"I'm just a little frustrated," he said. "This gets Kim and the family's hopes up more than anything else, especially when you have them at a news conference and you don't tell them anything?"
Also expressing frustration about the case was David Nicholson, a 26-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office who was the lead detective on the Reyka case until his retirement in 2010.
Nicholson said he is eager to see it solved, but solved the right way.
"My concern is that they are going to try to sweep this under the carpet and close this case because Shawn LaBeet is dead," he said. "So, Shawn LaBeet can never come back and say, 'Oh, I didn't do this,' or refute their claims."
Nicholson said Broward and Miami-Dade detectives concentrated hard on the case but could not link LaBeet to Reyka's murder.
"We had other viable suspects still a part of the case file that were more viable than Shawn LaBeet," he said. "Something stinks here."
On Tuesday, detectives acknowledged that LaBeet has been the focus for more than a year, but decided to announce the name publicly to draw tips specifically about LaBeet. They released a number of specific questions they want answered.
The four questions are:
-Who were LaBeet's friends and associates?
-Did you ever see LaBeet with a firearm?
-Did you ever see him in a white vehicle?
-Do you know of LaBeet's criminal activity prior to and including 2007?
Anyone with information about LaBeet is asked to call the new Reyka hotline at 954-880-3950.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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