Not long after Timothy Heaphy was nominated to be U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, he filled out a routine Senate questionnaire listing the 10 most-significant cases of his career as a prosecutor and defense lawyer.
Along with high-profile cases such as representing former Olympic gold-medalist sprinter Tim Montgomery and prosecuting Sidney Jackson, the so-called “Capitol Hill slasher,” Mr. Heaphy mentioned a name few if anyone in the U.S. Senate likely knew: Oscar Veal.
But to Mr. Heaphy, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, and to a handful of investigators and prosecutors, Veal was largely responsible for dismantling the most violent drug organization that Washington has ever seen.
Veal, 39, shot and killed seven people. A contract killer for a large drug ring and murder-for-hire operation a decade ago, he cooperated with prosecutors and became a star witness for the government. Kevin Gray, the lead defendant in one case in which Veal testified, alone was convicted in Washington of taking part in a record 19 murders.
But there is a price to be paid for such testimony. Veal could have faced the death penalty. Instead, he has completed about half of a 25-year prison term — less than four years for each of the execution-style murders he committed. At his 2005 sentencing, which has not been previously reported, a relative of one victim said she will pray until her dying breath that Veal never sees the streets again. And attorneys for the men he testified against portrayed him as a snitch willing to lie in court to save himself.
Veal, in an undisclosed prison, declined to comment through his attorney. But the story of his crimes and cooperation are revealed in thousands of pages of recently obtained transcripts and law enforcement and court documents. The records shed light on little-known deals prosecutors say they must make to put away violent criminals, even if it means that some killers like Veal who cooperate will be free again.
The documents portray a man who called killing a job, who shot victims in the back of the head and who once took a payoff — $7,000 and two bottles of champagne — within sight of the FBI building in Washington. At the same time, once arrested, Veal confessed to murders he was not suspected in, professed a religious conversion, wrote apologies to families of victims and expressed a desire to one day join the Peace Corps.
“Veal was unlike any witness I had ever worked with,” Mr. Heaphy, a prosecutor in Veal’s case, recounted on his Senate form. “While he had committed seven brutal murders, he was soft-spoken and humble.”
Another assistant U.S. attorney who worked on the case, Michael Brittin, remarked at Veal’s sentencing, “There is no other witness, no law-enforcement officer, no judge, no one who ultimately bears as much responsibility, in my view, for dismantling the largest criminal and most violent criminal enterprise this city has ever seen than Oscar Veal.”
Realizing too late that he’d botched his assignment, Veal once shot a man he thought was a government informant but who turned out to have no connection to drugs or guns in Washington.
Another time, Veal stalked a man outside an elementary school near Capitol Hill, waiting for the would-be victim to pick up his girlfriend’s children as school let out.
For Veal, killing was simply a job.
“Even though it may sound sick, that’s the way … we looked at it,” he testified.