Government

U.S. attorney hopes to send message of deterrence by highlighting unintentional gun deaths

He says deaths could have been avoided

U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan, Jr. speaks at a news conference at the U.S. District Courthouse for the Northern District of Iowa in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. U.S. Attorney Deegan highlighted cases involving unintentional shootings by people who were in illegal possession of guns. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan, Jr. speaks at a news conference at the U.S. District Courthouse for the Northern District of Iowa in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. U.S. Attorney Deegan highlighted cases involving unintentional shootings by people who were in illegal possession of guns. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — U.S. Attorney Peter Deegan highlighted four cases Tuesday that led to unintentional deaths or serious injury and involved defendants who illegally had firearms because they were drug users.

Deegan’s message was that the deaths of two children and an adult and another serious injury to a child “could have been and should have been avoided” if these defendants didn’t have a gun that they were not legally allowed to possess.

“Federal law prohibits certain people from owning or even handling guns,” Deegan noted. “These include not only unlawful drug users, but felons, convicted domestic abusers, people with certain mental health histories and illegal aliens.”

Deegan, along with several law enforcement partners in Eastern Iowa, during a news conference highlighted the four cases that were prosecuted between 2015 and 2017. During that period there was a nationwide uptick in the number of deaths due to unintentional shootings, and Iowa wasn’t immune to the trend.

“These cases highlight the commitment of local, state and federal law enforcement to continue the fight against gun crime and to make our streets safer as part of Project Safe Neighborhood,” Deegan said.

Deegan said he hopes the prosecutions of people involved in those deaths will serve as a deterrent and send the message that the office will pursue these cases, which result in longer prison sentences.

The gun cases highlighted:

l Daniel Henriksen, 30, of Elgin, was sentenced last week to two months in federal prison for being a drug user and illegally having a .45-caliber Glock handgun, which he left out and a four-year-old boy found the gun in the cushions of his sofa and accidentally shot himself. The boy died later at the hospital from a gunshot wound to his head.

Henriksen pleaded guilty last September to being a drug user in possession of a firearm.

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l Robyn Merchant, 55, of Vinton, pleaded guilty in May 2016 to transferring a firearm to her 16-year-old son, Dillon Winterroth, a drug user. Merchant was sentenced in October 2016 to 46 months in prison.

On Feb. 23, 2015, Merchant provided Winterroth with a Walther HK MP5 .22-caliber rifle, which was passed around by him and his friend in her son’s bedroom. The gun was unintentionally discharged by one of her son’s friends, resulting in the death of another person in the room, Emma Redlinger, 14.

Merchant’s son regularly used marijuana in Merchant’s home, and a urine sample obtained from him the night of the shooting tested positive for marijuana.

During the investigation, law enforcement learned that Merchant and her son sold marijuana from their residence. Some of their customers included other high school students who were friends of Merchant’s son.

l Dale Edward White, 24 at the time, of Nashua, pleaded guilty in April 2016 to possessing a firearm and ammunition as a drug user. On Jan. 2, 2016, White and his father, Karl White, were handling a .22 caliber rifle in the living room of the house they shared.

The gun unintentionally discharged, striking White’s father who later died as a result of this injury.

During the investigation, police seized 49 firearms from White’s residence. These firearms included handguns, shotguns and rifles. Authorities also seized evidence consistent with drug use.

White was a user of methamphetamine and marijuana at the time of the shooting.

White was sentenced in August 2016 to 47 months in prison.

l Raven Harris, 26, and Willie Earl Horsley Sr., 30, both of Dubuque, pleaded guilty in April 2016 to being drug users in the possession of a firearm and ammunition. On Jan. 3, 2016, Harris and Horsley were both unlawful users of marijuana and kept a .45-caliber gun in their bedroom, which was accessible to their minor children.

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The children began playing with the firearm, which led to the shooting of their 2-year-old son. The child survived but required treatment for injuries to his jaw and shoulder.

Harris and Horsley received five years probation in August 2016, but a judge found that Horsley violated his probation last November and was sentenced to nine months in prison.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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