He loaned his handgun to a friend, who said he wanted to teach his girlfriend how to shoot. But five days later, that man instead used the firearm to kill a University of Utah student and then himself.
And now the gun owner, Nathan Daniel Vogel, faces federal charges.
Vogel, 21, of Millcreek, was named in an indictment Wednesday for allegedly deceiving a licensed Salt Lake City dealer during the purchase of the .40-caliber pistol in September. Vogel had been generally discharged from the Army — a step below an honorable discharge — and thought that might stop him from getting a gun, or at least trigger a waiting period.
So he brought along a friend, Sarah Emily Lady, 24, of Mapleton, who told the dealer she was buying the firearm and completed the background check instead. Immediately after the purchase, according to court documents, she handed it over to Vogel.
Both have been charged with giving false statements and conspiring to commit an offense against the United States, which is considered the victim in this case. There are no counts, though, directly related to Vogel loaning the gun weeks later to Melvin S. Rowland, a 37-year-old convicted felon, who used it to kill Lauren McCluskey outside her campus dorm on Oct. 22.
But the murder led police and prosecutors to look into the purchase.
To charge Vogel under state law in connection with the loan, prosecutors would have to show he knowingly gave the gun to aid in the crime or knew Rowland couldn’t own a gun because of his criminal background. Officers have said neither apply.
But Vogel’s own acquisition of the gun was illegal, federal prosecutors contend.
“When a firearm is unlawfully acquired or transferred, the firearm ends up in the wrong hands and violence brings tragedy to our community," said U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber in a statement. “While we cannot change what happened that October night in Salt Lake City, we can say that without the conduct alleged in this indictment, this particular handgun would not have been used to take Lauren’s life."
In an October news conference shortly after 21-year-old McCluskey was killed, University of Utah police Chief Dale Brophy said Vogel contacted officers when he saw media reports about Rowland and the slaying. Brophy initially said it was unlikely that Vogel would be prosecuted.
“We don’t believe at this time that [the friend] had any knowledge that Rowland was a convicted sex offender and on parole,” the chief added.
But Jill McCluskey, McCluskey’s mother, had in November called for charges to be filed against the person who gave Rowland the firearm. And on Wednesday, she said she was glad the U.S. Attorney’s Office was moving forward with a case “against the individuals who lied and conspired to buy the gun that was used to kill our daughter.”
Meanwhile, a bill that was proposed but did not pass in the state Legislature this session would have increased the liability for people who loan out their guns, particularly when someone is injured or killed as a result. It was called “Lauren’s Law” in memory of McCluskey. The sponsor said he intends to bring the measure back again next year.
McCluskey, a track athlete at the University of Utah, ended her brief relationship with Rowland after finding out that he had lied about his age and background. For several days after that, she contacted campus police to report that he started to extort and harass her. But, according to a later review of the university’s response, officers never discovered Rowland was on parole and did little to address McCluskey’s concerns.
They also never heard from housing officials, who learned from McCluskey’s friends that Rowland had talked about bringing a gun to campus. Dorm staff never passed on the information.
“They did nothing,” Jill McCluskey added Wednesday. “We hope for additional accountability of the individuals who did not protect Lauren.”
Lady was booked Tuesday and released after an initial court appearance Wednesday, where she pleaded not guilty to the charges. A trial is set to begin May 20. Vogel was taken into custody in San Diego on Wednesday; his first court appearance was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
The maximum potential penalty for the charge of making false statements is 10 years in federal prison. The conspiracy count carries up to five years.
Despite what the indictment said Vogel thought about his release from the Army, it appears there was no restriction on those with general discharges owning a gun or a requirement that they undergo a longer waiting period. Under current law, if he had purchased the gun himself, he may not be facing charges despite loaning it to Rowland.
While a general discharge is a step below an honorable discharge, it doesn’t cost anyone any constitutional rights.
Mitch Vilos, a Utah attorney specializing in gun laws, said on Wednesday that the federal government only seeks to prohibit firearm ownership among those who received a dishonorable discharge or who separated from the military after being convicted of a crime, typically known as a bad conduct discharge.
— Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle contributed to this story