Thayne Smika, as seen in his 1983 booking photo, is the prime suspect in the slaying of Sid Wells.
Thayne Smika, as seen in his 1983 booking photo, is the prime suspect in the slaying of Sid Wells. (Camera archives)

 

Sid Wells case timeline

Aug. 1, 1983: Sid Wells is found shot to death in his condominium in Boulder's Spanish Towers, 805 29th St. Police said Wells was forced to the floor and shot execution-style in the back of the head.

Oct. 6, 1983: Police arrest Thayne Smika, who was living with Wells at the time of the crime, at his family home in Akron. The following week, Smika's mother posts a $100,000 bond, and Smika leaves the Boulder County Jail.

Oct. 24, 1983: A grand jury convenes to investigate the homicide.

Oct. 31, 1983: Then-Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter declines to charge Smika, saying there's not sufficient evidence.

Sid Wells was killed Aug. 1, 1983. He was entering his senior year at the University of Colorado when he died.
Sid Wells was killed Aug. 1, 1983. He was entering his senior year at the University of Colorado when he died. (Camera archives)

1985: The grand jury ends with no indictment.

1986: Smika disappears.

1997: Police reopen the case, saying they have new evidence, including an FBI lead analysis linking Smika's ammunition to the crime.

1999: Hunter reviews the case again and declines to issue an arrest warrant.

2001: Newly elected District Attorney Mary Lacy reviews the case and agrees there's not enough evidence for an arrest warrant.

2007: The FBI's lead analysis is called into question after it's exposed that the type of test used was previously determined to be "unreliable and potentially misleading" by the National Academy of Sciences.

2009: Newly elected District Attorney Stan Garnett says he'll review the case and consider running old evidence through new DNA tests.

Sources: Camera archives

Police have obtained an arrest warrant for the prime suspect in the 1983 slaying of Sid Wells, one of Boulder's most notorious unsolved killings.

But authorities have not been able to locate Thayne Smika, who was Wells' 24-year-old roommate at the time of his death and has been the main suspect for more than 27 years. Police haven't known his whereabouts since 1986.

"There hasn't been a national or international hunt for Mr. Smika," Boulder police Chief Mark Beckner said Thursday. "There will be now."

Wells, 22, was living with his brother and Smika in Boulder's Spanish Towers when he was found Aug. 1, 1983, shot to death execution-style in the condo owned by his mother. He was entering his senior year at the University of Colorado when he was killed.

The case drew international attention because Wells was dating actor Robert Redford's daughter, Shauna Jean Redford.

The arrest warrant, which calls for a charge of first-degree murder and sets Smika's bond at $5 million, was signed by Boulder County District Court Judge Roxanne Bailin on Dec. 2. Records of the warrant remained sealed until Thursday, which Beckner said was to allow investigators to try to track the suspect down.

Beckner said investigators went out of the state to interview family members and friends of Smika, but he declined to say where the investigations have taken place. He said the conversations have yielded "a few small tidbits" of information about Smika's whereabouts, but no one is sure where to look.

"After 27 years, really, who knows?" Beckner said. "He could be right under our nose."

He said the department will now work with federal and international authorities and get the word out that Smika, now 51, is a wanted man.

'To get an arrest warrant is a big deal'

Wells' mother, June Menger, who still lives in Longmont, said she was happy to learn about the arrest warrant.

Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett is seeking the arrest of Thayne Smika in the 1983 homicide of University of Colorado student Sid Wells.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett is seeking the arrest of Thayne Smika in the 1983 homicide of University of Colorado student Sid Wells. (Camera file photo)

"It's definitely a step forward that we've been waiting for for years," she said. "We've always felt he was the one, but to get an arrest warrant is a big deal."

Menger said she applauded District Attorney Stan Garnett's office for taking an interest in cold cases and pushing the investigation forward.

While two previous district attorneys and a Boulder County grand jury all declined to pursue charges against Smika, Garnett said investigators have enough evidence to charge him.

"We spent two years putting the pieces together, and I made a decision based on this stage of evidence," Garnett said.

David Hayes, deputy chief of Boulder police who was one of the original investigators assigned to the Wells case, said Thursday that he's believed all along that Smika was responsible.

An age-progression sketch of Thayne Smika, issued by Boulder police. He would now be 51.
An age-progression sketch of Thayne Smika, issued by Boulder police. He would now be 51.

"It feels good," Hayes said of the case finally moving forward.

He said the department has relied heavily on testing of shotgun pellets recovered from Wells' body, which experts believe match those found in shotgun shells recovered from Smika's family home in eastern Colorado after the slaying.

According to the arrest affidavit, detectives took previous ballistics evidence to a probability expert who found the likelihood of the same alloys existing in the same proportion in the same pellets to be between 1 in 2,925 and 1 in 665,250.

Craig Silverman, a former prosecutor and legal commentator, said that level of probability is significant, noting that non-DNA evidence doesn't offer the same level of certainty.

"Statistics that are valid are often very persuasive if it's coupled with other evidence," he said.

Friends of Smika also told police in the 1990s that he made suspicious or incriminating statements after the homicide, but one woman who told police Smika admitted the crime to her has since died.

Silverman said that will present a hurdle for prosecutors. Once a witness is dead, her statements usually cannot be admitted at trial. However, Silverman said Garnett wouldn't have moved forward if he didn't believe the evidence would be enough to convict Smika.

Hayes said Robert Redford's family, including Shauna, have been made aware of developments in the case against Smika.

Smika arrested in 1983 but never charged

Several past attempts by Boulder police to arrest Smika in connection with the case have fallen short.

While Smika was arrested on Oct. 6, 1983, about two months after the slaying, then-District Attorney Alex Hunter declined to charge him, saying there wasn't enough evidence.

A Boulder County grand jury was convened to investigate the homicide but failed to issue an indictment in 1985 after Hunter made a secret agreement with Smika's public defender, Steve Jacobson, that the grand jury would not indict.

Hunter said he made the deal in October 1983, before the grand jury began its investigation, in exchange for keeping Smika's expiring $100,000 bond in force for two extra weeks.

The case was then closed for years, until Hayes and Detective Melissa Kampf reopened it in 1997 when a new witness offered information about Smika's actions around the time of the homicide.

The FBI was also able to connect three shotgun shells found in Smika's mother's home in eastern Colorado with the one that killed Wells -- although the results of those tests have since been questioned.

Hayes and Kampf asked Hunter to issue an arrest warrant for Smika, but Hunter declined again, saying there was "much more work to be done."

Mary Lacy, who succeeded Hunter, also said it was premature to file charges against Smika when police asked her to in 2001.

Garnett said he wouldn't second-guess the decisions of previous prosecutors, who saw the evidence in an earlier stage of development. He praised the willingness of Boulder police to pursue every angle prosecutors asked about.

Garnett has made pursuing cold-case homicides a priority, with mixed results.

"These are tough cases, and they take everything we have, but they're important to the community," he said.

Smika disappeared in 1986 and hasn't talked with Boulder police since 1985.

Still, authorities have continued their search for him.

In the spring of 1998, police received one tip that Smika had been spotted in Ventura, Calif., and another that he was in Mexico after "48 Hours" aired information about the case.

Boulder detectives flew to Ventura after getting a tip that Smika was working there in the construction business. They did not find Smika, but police have long suspected he was living in California under a new identity.

Police also made a videotape in Spanish to air in Mexico, explaining the details of the case and offering a $1,000 reward for information.