At least one suspect is under scrutiny, and authorities haven't ruled out others.
By NORMAN LEIGH
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
LISBON -- Nearly three years have passed since Leetonia businessman Richard Altomare was slain, and some of his family members are losing hope that the case will ever be solved.
Altomare, 59, was found shot to death Sept. 19, 1999, in a vacant school he owned along Fairfield School Road in Fairfield Township.
Given the time that has elapsed since the killing, some of Altomare's relatives are abandoning hope that it will ever be explained, said Atty. Robert Guehl of Salem, who serves as family spokesman.
"They've pretty much put it to rest, accepting the fact that there will be no resolution," Guehl said.
Asked to withdraw
In September 2000, Altomare's son, Richard Jr. of Salem, accused Columbiana County Prosecutor Robert Herron of failing to pursue certain evidence and asked that he remove himself from the case. Herron refused.
Guehl, who represented the son, has said audiotapes in Herron's possession contain discussions among three men that indicate the individuals might have knowledge of the crime. Herron has refused to comment on the tapes.
Richard Altomare Jr. recently reiterated his dissatisfaction with the probe.
In a written statement, he said, "Mr. Herron refuses to step down from the investigation, and yet he fails to bring about a prosecution. It is our hope that ... justice will be done. & quot;
Herron said recently that the case is a difficult one, and he insisted that progress is being made toward solving it.
As to whether he expects an arrest in the next year, Herron refused to speculate.
"I'm not going to put a timetable on it," he said.
"We have some directions we're pursuing," he said without elaborating.
In their sights
At least one individual has been identified as a "strong suspect," Herron said. "But we haven't ruled out the involvement of more than one person."
Authorities have said Altomare, the owner of Altomare's Welding in Leetonia, was killed by someone he knew after going to the school building to meet the person.
In the three years since the slaying, prosecutors have called nearly 20 people to testify before a grand jury. None has been called in the past several months, but Herron said he expects grand jury testimony to resume "as we continue to develop evidence."
The motive continues to be what investigators concluded early in the case: Greed. Money was behind Altomare's death, Herron said, but he wouldn't offer details.
Authorities have offered few specifics about the slaying, such as how many times Altomare was shot and with what type of firearm.
"It's been slow," Herron said of solving the case. "But we're committed to staying the course."