Thomas Solheim, a suspect in the 1992 cold-case killing of sailor James Horton, died Thursday night after collapsing in a New York church where he was attending choir practice, his attorney said.
Solheim, 56, had been free on bail and living in Montauk, N.Y., while awaiting trial in Hortonís death. He had been arrested but never indicted by a grand jury in the case.
His attorney, Andy Savage, said Solheimís death appears to be from natural causes.
Savage said Solheim called frequently, maintained his innocence and was eager to be exonerated of murder, kidnapping and rape charges. Savage said he plans to seek to have the charges expunged, posthumously, from Solheimís record.
In 2010, Solheim was one of four people accused of participating in the beating, gang rape and killing of Horton in Berkeley County. Horton, 22, was stationed at the former Charleston Naval Base, assigned to the ocean minesweeper Exultant, when his body was found in a drainage ditch off Sheep Island Road on Nov. 14, 1992.
Horton lay face down in about 4 feet of water with his hands tied behind his back. He had been shot in the chest, struck on the head with a blunt object and sexually assaulted.
Solheim was a gunnerís mate who served aboard the Exultant. A former co-defendant in the case, Doug Emery, told investigators that Horton had walked in on Solheim having gay sex, which at the time was potentially career-ending conduct, and Solheim was angry.
Another co-defendant, Konnie Glidden, later gave a confession implicating herself, Solheim, Emery and Charles Welty in the grisly killing. That led to the arrest of all four, though the charges against Emery have since been dropped.
Glidden has maintained that her confession was cooerced after a grueling interrogation led by a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent. She is seeking to have the confession tossed out.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Glidden had been the key witness against Solheim, and prosecutors were waiting to see how her case played out before deciding how to proceed with him.
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