NEW BEDFORD — After nearly 25 years, authorities believe they have solved the brutal slaying of a 32-year-old mother of three from Fall River, thanks largely to a change of heart by a witness in the case.
On Monday, Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter announced that Daniel T. Tavares Jr., 46, has been indicted in the 1988 slaying of Gayle Botelho.
The dramatic development in the decades-old case came about after a witness who had been part of the alibi for Tavares provided, within the last eight months, a different version of events that implicated Tavares in Botelho's murder, Sutter said.
Tavares is currently serving a life sentence at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla for the 2007 slaying of a married couple in Washington.
He also previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 1991 killing of his mother, Ann Marie Tavares of Somerset.
"I think this person [the witness] had a conscience for a long time, and it was the right time" to come forward, said William McCauley, a top prosecutor in Sutter's office, at a press conference here to disclose the indictment.
"As we see in many of these cases, sometimes people just decide to do the right thing at the right time, and that's how this case has come together."
Sutter said more evidence surfaced after the witness's reversal, but he declined to provide
specific details ahead of Tavares's arraignment, which has not yet been scheduled.
"It was the start," Sutter said Monday of the unnamed person's revised story. "And there have been several developments since the start. . . . There's witness testimony, there's forensic evidence, so it all came together. But I would say that was the spark."
Several of Botelho's relatives attended the news conference, and some appeared to fight back tears as Sutter and McCauley described an investigation that took authorities to neighboring states and to Portugal before a grand jury returned the indictment in late March.
Beverly Souza, one of eight siblings of Botelho, thanked the investigators but said it pains her to know that their late mother never got to see justice.
"My regret is my mom passed away, and she didn't get to see this day," said Souza, of Tiverton, R.I. "She did get to bury her daughter, but she didn't get to see the person responsible for taking her away [held] accountable for his actions."
Souza added: "Twenty-five years, yes, it's a long time. But to me, it was just yesterday [that] this happened, because she was my sister. She'll always be my sister. And when a part of your family tree is taken away, the branch is just not there, but it's still there in your heart."
Heather Brogan, 29, of Fall River, one of Gayle Botelho's children, said the limited memory that she has of her mother remains fresh.
"I think about her all the time," Brogan said, adding that the family has often prayed for a break in the case. "I'm glad its finally come," she said.
At the time of her disappearance in October 1988, Botelho lived across the street from Tavares, who stabbed his mother, Ann, to death in 1991. In 2000, Tavares told former Bristol district attorney Paul F. Walsh's office where Botelho's body could be found. But Walsh said at the time that Tavares had implicated two other men in the killing of Botelho.
Tavares remained imprisoned for killing his mother until 2007, when he was released from state prison despite efforts by the Department of Correction to keep him behind bars for repeatedly assaulting correction officers.
Tavares's bail on the assaults on the officers was originally set at $100,000 cash, but Superior Court Judge Kathe M. Tuttman released him on personal recognizance, the Globe reported in 2007.
Tavares fled to Washington state, where he shot and killed his neighbors, Beverly and Brian Mauck, on Nov. 17, 2007. Tavares pleaded guilty to killing the Maucks in 2008.
Prosecutors said Monday that investigators have traveled to Washington within the last several months but would not say if they interviewed Tavares.
His lawyers in the Washington double-murder case could not be reached for comment, and a spokesman for the state's Department of Corrections referred questions about the Botelho investigation to Massachusetts authorities.
Officials said it could be at least a month before Tavares is brought to the Bay State for arraignment.
Asked if anyone else could be charged, Sutter said, "That is not contemplated at this time."
He added, "From now until the conclusion of this case, I say to the Botelho family that you will be traveling with our office on a journey to justice."