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Originally published Tuesday, January 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Hearing in Wales slaying closed

In a rare move, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has closed a Wednesday hearing involving the grand-jury investigation into the 2001...

Seattle Times staff reporter

In a rare move, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has closed a Wednesday hearing involving the grand-jury investigation into the 2001 slaying of Seattle federal prosecutor Thomas Wales.

The order was issued Monday by the three-member panel of the appeals court, which will hear the matter in its Park Place courtroom in downtown Seattle.

Deputy clerk Stacy Brebner said the entire 21st floor of the Park Place building will be off-limits to the public and media beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The hearing should last about 40 minutes, she said. She declined to provide a copy of the order.

The hearing will focus on an appeal involving Bellevue gun dealer Albert Kwok Leung Kwan, who in the past has invoked Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination when called to testify, according to his Washington, D.C., attorney, Joe Conte. In 2005, Kwan was held for 23 days as a material witness in the Wales case, but he is not considered a suspect.

The appeal was filed over a ruling made in secret by a federal district-court judge in Seattle. The nature of the appeal and who brought it are secret, and the court filings are sealed.

Conte opposed closing Wednesday's hearing. He said he could not discuss the court's ruling.

The request that the hearing be closed came from Steve Clymer, the New York-based special prosecutor who has overseen the Wales investigation for the past six years. Clymer has declined to discuss the hearing because federal grand-jury matters are secret.

Closed hearings are rare, but not unheard of, in the appeals court, said spokesman Dave Madden.

The FBI is interested in Kwan's purchase of at least one aftermarket gun barrel for a Makarov handgun — the type of weapon used to kill Wales. Agents have evidence that Kwan bought two barrels, but he has denied owning more than one. Conte said his client has failed an FBI polygraph.

Kwan lived within a few miles of a commercial airline pilot the FBI has identified as the prime suspect in Wales' slaying, and both are avid fliers with an interest in firearms. The FBI has been looking for any link between the men.

Wales prosecuted the pilot in the late 1990s in a bitterly disputed criminal case that eventually was dismissed, as was the pilot's subsequent suit against Wales and the Department of Justice for malicious prosecution.

Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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