FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – When homicide lead prosecutor Thomas “Tom” Chaille and Sgt. Tim Hughes, head of Fort Wayne homicide, formally met each other about three years ago, it wasn’t like they didn’t know of each other.

Chaille remembered Hughes as he worked on drug cases and Hughes knew who Chaille was from his reputation.

Then came October 2018 when they both had a new job, Chaille as lead counsel and Hughes, heading up FWPD homicide.

“My first week in homicide, we sat in his office and we just talked. Talked about what our goals were, to resolve these cases and bring justice to these families. We just developed a relationship built on an extreme amount of trust,” Hughes recalled.

“I trust him and he trusts me. He trusts me and my team to bring the strongest case possible,” Hughes said in a joint interview last month.

That trust has resulted in some impressive statistics. From Oct. 1, 2018 through Dec. 21, there were 121 homicides, 78 of those with  murder charges filed. Of the 121 homicides, 99 were closed, for an 82% clearance rate, according to Hughes’ meticulous stats.

The end of 2021 saw two more homicides and subsequent arrests with murder charges filed. 

An 82% clearance rate is practically unheard of in the U.S. Two years ago, the national clearance hovered at around 61%. For the past two years, it’s dipped into the mid-to high 50 percentile,  David Carter, professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice, said.

“It’s very good,” Carter said, “particularly for now.”

Chaille, 51, and Hughes, 44, couldn’t be more different. While Chaille is often described as reserved, that description would never be applied to Hughes..

A streetwise cop whose homicide detectives admire his tactical abilities, Hughes is a combination of charm, energy, humor and confidence. A patrolman for years on the city’s southeast side, Hughes says he’s drawn his gun plenty of times, but never shot anyone.

It’s obvious when the two are together, they like each other. Hughes cracks a joke and Chaille breaks into a smile.

Do they share a sense of humor? “I think so,” Hughes says, “because there’s times when I say stuff and he doesn’t hang up on me.”

Hughes came to the department in 2004 as a lateral transfer from his native Ohio, after serving three years in the U.S. Navy. 

Chaille was born and raised in Anderson. After graduating from Indiana University in Bloomington with a degree in political science, he got his law degree at the University of Dayton Law School. 

Before he joined the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office, he worked at the Madison County prosecutor’s office for nine years, leaving as the senior trial attorney. He spent a year as Anderson’s city attorney before moving to Fort Wayne as a general felony prosecutor.

In Allen County, he was the chief of the sex crimes division and took over as Chief Counsel in 2018 when he turned to homicides. Chaille saw more opportunities in Fort Wayne, he said, and subsequently his siblings and parents joined him here.

With an unprecedented number of solved homicide cases and 40 murder cases pending, the team has grown under Chaille with more investigators and more IT resources, he said.

Tesa Helge, a 14-year veteran deputy prosecutor who worked under Chaille in the sex crimes unit, is now Chaille’s right hand and will take the lead on half the murder cases.

Helge calls herself the “touchy feely prosecutor,” and is often seen seeking out victims’ families on the other side of the rail, hugging them and sharing their tears.

“We’re all driven by different things,” Helge said. “The emotion of that family is something really powerful for me to do my job, to feel like I’m doing something meaningful.

“That result is everything for them and to be able to share a small piece of that journey with them is really important.”

While Fort Wayne police are putting together their cases, Hughes said his team leaves no stone unturned. “If there’s information out there, no matter how small or significant, we try to present it to Tom to use it. There are times when the smallest detail will turn a case around, will crack a case.”

The two communicate at all hours of the day and night, and sometimes there are disagreements.

“We respectfully and professionally disagree with each other at times. I wouldn’t say we butt heads. I’d say it’s a perfect storm at times,” Hughes said.

Chaille says the two disagree from time to time on cases, but they’ve built a baseline.  

“There’s common ground. We’re able to kind of work through that (so that) people who commit violent crimes are held accountable,” Chaille said.

They have lunch together, they said, but so far that’s the extent of socializing.

“I’ve been trying to get that guy to have a drink with me for three years,” Hughes joked.

Hughes de-stresses by listening to music and lifting weights. He’s not sure he wants folks to know he likes a cigar with a drink and sometimes chews tobacco. Hughes and his wife, Sgt. Shannon Hughes, share the life of a police officer.

Chaille calms down with his family and is fond of hikes. He and his family hike everywhere, but their favorite spot is the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The stakes are so high when cases get to court, Hughes, Chaille and Helge all admit they lose sleep.

“It’s the unknown and the things we can’t control about a case, about a trial,” Chaille said.