Suffolk County Thursday released surveillance photos taken in February when politically connected developer Gary Melius was shot in the head outside his Huntington catering hall.
The photos show a light-colored, four-door Jeep Grand Cherokee, which the assailant is suspected to have used in the shooting at Oheka Castle. Det. Sgt. John O'Sullivan of the Second Squad, in a news conference Thursday in Yaphank, asked for the public's help in locating the vehicle.
The Grand Cherokee has five-spoke rims and a thin black molding strip on both the passenger's and driver's sides, he said.
Police initially believed a black Infiniti that pulled into the valet area shortly before the shooting may have served as a lookout for the Jeep. Thursday, O'Sullivan confirmed that police had dropped that theory, saying "our investigation reveals that the Grand Cherokee was the sole vehicle that was used on the day of the shooting."
O'Sullivan said Thursday police decided to confirm the make of the vehicle nearly four months after the shooting because they want the public's help. Newsday first reported the make of the vehicle in March.
The Jeep was last seen the day of the shooting traveling eastbound in the area of West 11th Street in Huntington Station just west of New York Avenue, O'Sullivan said, adding that police are certain it was the same vehicle seen at Oheka Castle during the shooting.
"It's less than two miles from the castle. And the time frame that we have -- the vehicle in that location and the description from both the castle and the location -- assures us that that is the location for the vehicle," he said.
Police released the photos after Newsday inquired about surveillance video on Monday. Suffolk police confirmed they have the video but have not released it. The department released a surveillance photo of the Jeep through Nixle, a Web-based public notification system, and a three-picture release of the car through its public information office Thursday before the news conference.
Veteran outside investigators had mixed reactions to the release of the photos, which show the vehicle at the shooting scene. The shooting had all the hallmarks of a targeted hit, but releasing crime scene photographs before an arrest usually indicates that an arrest is not imminent, the experts said.
Jeff Noble, a police consultant and former deputy chief of the Irvine, California, police department, said when authorities release such images, investigators may lose potential leverage over an individual whose cooperation they need, or cause a suspect to flee.
"The only reason to release it is if you really have no idea who the person is and you really need the public's help," Noble said.
O'Sullivan denied that the decision to release the pictures meant investigators had hit a dead end.
"Absolutely not," O'Sullivan said. "This is an ongoing, very active investigation."
Melius survived the Feb. 24 shooting by a masked assailant and has said he doesn't know the identity of the shooter.
Melius, owner of Oheka Castle, was in his Mercedes-Benz in the rear parking area of the Huntington facility when he was ambushed and shot once in the forehead about 12:30 p.m., according to police.
Scores of detectives from at least three Suffolk police sections and the Suffolk district attorney's office were initially looking at Melius' business dealings and associations in an effort to find the shooter, sources have told Newsday.
Anyone with information on the case can call Crime Stoppers at 800-220-8477. All calls will be kept confidential.