An FBI review of the 2005 death of Robert Lee Clay, a prominent Baltimore businessman and advocate for minority entrepreneurs, supports a conclusion by city police and the state medical examiner's office that he committed suicide, according to an FBI letter made public yesterday.
The agency said investigators reviewed police reports "covering Mr. Clay's background, business relationships, and financial affairs leading up to his death," which revealed "a somewhat stressful time in his life.
"We believe that your investigation, and the Medical Examiner's conclusion that Mr. Clay's death was a suicide, is supported by both investigative and forensic evidence," Special Agent William D. Chase, head of the Baltimore FBI field office, wrote. He added that "no additional investigative steps are recommended by the FBI."
City Councilman James B. Kraft, chairman of the council's public safety subcommittee, asked the FBI to review the Clay investigation after a contentious hearing in which Clay's relatives, business associates and friends accused police of botching the investigation of the well-known minority contractor and activist.
Clay was found dead with a single gunshot to his head in his Reservoir Hill office May 16, 2005. Police and the medical examiner ruled the death a suicide.
FBI forensic investigators at the agency's laboratory in Quantico, Va., evaluated the state medical examiner's report and crime scene photographs. Using the crime scene photographs, members of the FBI's DNA Analysis Unit conducted a blood-stain pattern examination, the letter said. The test results were consistent with suicide, the FBI said.
The FBI review did not quiet criticism. When told yesterday of the FBI's finding, Arnold Jolivet, a friend and business associate of Clay, criticized the FBI for only reviewing the work of city police investigators and not conducting its own investigation. He said people who knew Clay never saw any signs of suicidal tendencies.
"None of us in the community will ever feel good that what the FBI did was in addition to what the city had already done," Jolivet said. "This man was a very happy man, a very proud man, a very comfortable man, and there was no reason at all why he would've committed suicide."
Kraft said that the FBI's finding renders moot an earlier debate about whether the City Council should pass a resolution asking police to reopen Clay's death investigation.
"While this may not be the answer that everyone wanted, I think it resolves it once and for all, at least as far as I'm concerned," said Kraft. "I don't think there's a need for the city to take it any further."
Yesterday, Hamm sent Kraft a letter stating that he hoped the FBI's "independent review" reassured members of the City Council.