Bee County Sheriff Carlos Carrizales, Jr. released a statement late Wednesday outlining the sudden developments in the case.
“In the pre-dawn hours of September 26, 2012, local rancher and businessman Brien Hickman was murdered at the entrance of his family ranch located on Wofford Lane,” Carrizales said. “The investigation disclosed that he had been ambushed and shot one time in the head by a shotgun. During the course of the investigation, numerous interviews and leads were pursued.”
The sheriff said that on September 29, 2012, investigators conducted an interview with Hickman’s brother-in-law, Mike Stuart.
“Mr. Stuart agreed to submit to a polygraph examination at a later date concerning his statement. On October 16, 2012, Mike Stuart voluntarily came into the Sheriff’s Office and submitted to the polygraph examination. During the examination, Stuart made incriminating admissions concerning the murder of Hickman. He did not implicate anyone else other than himself.”
“Stuart was not under arrest, and he requested to leave so that he could speak with his wife,” Carrizales said.
“A short time after he left, investigators went to the ranch to conduct a follow-up interview with Stuart. Sergeant Investigator Adam Levine and Texas Ranger James Bennett were unable to make contact with Stuart at his residence. They were escorted by a family member through a gate that led to an area of pens and barns near the residence. At that time, a single gunshot was heard from a pen area near them. They immediately responded and found that Mike Stuart had taken his own life. The handgun he used was found underneath his body at the scene.”
Carrizales said the handgun used by Stuart was a .357-Magnum handgun.
“He came here voluntarily,” Carrizales said. “Even if he’d given us a full blown confession, he’d have been allowed to walk out and we’d have had to secure a warrant for his arrest.”
“Based upon all the interviews and evidence investigators were able to develop prior to yesterday, Stuart’s incriminating admissions and the fact that he did not implicate anyone else other than himself, along with his subsequent suicide as investigators closed in, we have concluded that Mike Stuart was responsible for the death of Brien Hickman,” the sheriff said.
“The case will not be officially closed until we receive the final results of pending lab reports. We do not anticipate any further press releases concerning the investigation,” Carrizales said.
“I would like to recognize the investigative team assigned to this case, lead investigator Sgt. Levine and Ranger Bennett,” the sheriff said. “Assisting them were Sergeant Investigator John L. Davis and Sergeant Kevin Behr, Texas Ranger Randy Aguirre and Texas and Southwest Cattle Raiser’s Association Special Ranger Steve Martin.”
“I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Coastal Bend Crime Stoppers and the citizens that helped with the rewards offered.” Carrizales continued.
“In closing, the family has requested that everyone respect their privacy during this difficult time as they seek closure for these tragic events. My prayers go out to the family at this tragic and difficult time.”
The investigators never received any tips from witnesses so the reward that was previously offered will go unpaid.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.