Trolley gun case ruling: Parents of massacre victim can't speak at sentencing
A judge on Thursday ruled the parents of a woman killed in the Trolley Square rampage cannot speak in court when the man who illegally sold the handgun used to kill their daughter is sentenced.
Sue and Ken Antrobus had asked that their daughter be declared a victim in the case of Mackenzie Glade Hunter, who has pleaded guilty to supplying gunman Sulejman Talovic with the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson that fired the fatal shot.
That designation would allow them to speak as representatives of their daughter, Vanessa Quinn, when Hunter is sentenced on Jan. 14, and to describe the devastating impact of her death.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball noted that Quinn and her parents are "undoubtedly" victims of Talovic's shooting spree. However, federal law does not consider them victims of the gun sale that took place eight months before Quinn was killed, the judge said.
"While the court does not want to minimize in any way the harm suffered by those who were killed, injured, or had loved ones killed or injured by Talovic, that harm is not sufficiently connected to Hunter's offense of unlawfully selling a firearm to a minor for this court to consider Hunter's actions to be the direct and proximate cause of the harm," Kimball wrote in his decision.
Kimball also denied the Antrobuses' request for information in a presentence report to bolster their argument that Hunter should get a 99-month sentence, and a request for $107,000 in restitution for funeral expenses and lost income they had hoped to put into the Vanessa Quinn Scholarship Fund.
Sue Antrobus said she is disappointed with the ruling.
"It just kind of makes you sick," she said from her home in Cincinnati. "I just don't know what to say anymore. It seems like the criminals have more rights than what the victims do in this country."
David Finlayson, an attorney representing Hunter, could not be reached for immediate comment Thursday.
Greg Skordas, a Salt Lake City lawyer for the Antrobuses, said he is considering an appeal to the 10th U.S. District Court of Appeals in Denver. A ruling with that court could help clarify the rights provided by the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA), he said.
The National Crime Victim Law Institute in Portland, Ore., has described the case as among the first to be brought under CVRA, and has said it will seek to file an amicus brief in support of the Antrobuses if there is an appeal.
Armed with the handgun Hunter sold him and a 12-gauge shotgun, Talovic killed five shoppers at the Trolley Square mall and injured four others on Feb. 12. The shot that killed the 29-year-old Quinn came from the handgun.
Hunter has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of transferring a handgun to a juvenile and to a felony charge of being a user or addict in possession of a gun. Federal sentencing guidelines call for him to be sentenced to up to one year in prison on the sale charge and up to 10 years for the possession charge.
In their request, which was filed last month, the Antrobuses argued that Quinn should be recognized as a victim of the illegal gun sale because Hunter told investigators that he thought Talovic might use the gun to rob a bank. That meant Hunter had reason to believe the firearm would be used in a violent crime, the couple say.
But Kimball said there is nothing to show that Hunter's statement about a bank robbery was more than general speculation.
"Even if Hunter believed that Talovic may commit a crime with the handgun, the nature of the crime was unforeseeable," he wrote.
* Mackenzie Glade Hunter, 20, of West Jordan, got a .38 Special handgun from a friend in Wyoming in June 2006, brought it to Salt Lake City, and arranged its sale to Talovic. He has pleaded guilty to felony possession of a gun while using drugs and a misdemeanor count of transferring a gun to a minor and will be sentenced Jan. 14.
* Brenden Taylor Brown, 21, of West Jordan, got the handgun from Hunter; he and Hunter sold it to Talovic. Brown pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of selling a handgun to a minor and received one year of probation.
* Matthew Hautala, 21, of Rock Springs, Wyo., saw Hunter acquire the handgun in Wyoming and was accused of lying to investigators. He pleaded guilty to aiding the transfer of a firearm to a juvenile and was sentenced to a year on probation and a $500 fine.
* Westley Wayne Hill, a licensed gun dealer who sold Talovic a pistol-grip shotgun at Sportsman's Fast Cash Pawn in West Valley City. Hill, 39, pleaded guilty to failing to indicate on a form whether Talovic showed a second form of identification, required because Talovic, a Bosnian, was a legal alien. He was sentenced to a year on probation and a $500 fine.