Man sentenced for selling gun used in murder

Jun 30 2012 - 7:20am

SEATTLE - A U.S. District Court judge sentenced a Kent man Friday to one year in prison for illegally selling a handgun to a Canadian man who fatally shot an Illinois woman who had spurned his romantic advances.

Benedict Ladera, 31, pleaded guilty in March to selling the .40-caliber handgun to Demetry Smirnov, of Surrey, British Columbia, who used the gun to kill Jitka Vesel, an Illinois woman he had met while playing an online video game.

Smirnov pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison for the April 2011 murder in Oak Brook, Ill. He had been romantically interested in Vesel, who did not feel the same way about him, said Theresa O'Rourke, a longtime friend of Vesel's, who spoke at Ladera's sentencing.

O'Rourke said she supports tighter restrictions on the purchase of firearms.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik told the Kent man that he contributed to Vesel's death and is "responsible for the consequences."

While Lasnik acknowledged that Ladera is "basically a good person" who was anguished over what happened, he still had to serve time for what happened.

"It's a sign of the times; guns are killing people all over our country," Lasnik said. "We are allowing too many people to have too many guns without any meaningful control."

Lasnik cited two recent instances of gun violence in Seattle: the May 30 rampage by Ian Stawicki, the mentally ill man who killed four people and wounded another at Cafe Racer in the University District before killing a woman 30 minutes later in a parking lot near downtown; and the May 24 slaying of Justin Ferrari while he was driving with his family through the Central District.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle said Ladera advertised the gun for sale on the website armslist.com and sold the handgun to Smirnov outside a Federal Way casino. Ladera knew Smirnov was not a state resident when he sold the gun, and accepted an extra $200 for the gun because he was aware Smirnov was Canadian, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

In their sentencing memo, federal prosecutors noted that the sale of firearms to out-of-state residents and foreign nationals is restricted to avoid such cases - Smirov dodged background and registration checks.

Ladera had no knowledge of Smirnov's plan to stalk and murder Vesel, federal prosecutors said.

According to federal prosecutors in Illinois, Smirnov, an unemployed computer technician, entered the U.S. in late March 2011 and spent a week driving through a number of Western states.

He purchased the handgun in a private transaction with Ladera and then paid a homeless man in Spokane to buy bullets because Smirnov could not legally purchase them.

O'Rourke said there needs to be criminal background checks on all firearms sold in the U.S.

"It's remarkable that it's so easy to obtain weapons in this country," O'Rourke said after the sentencing. "It's too late to make a difference in Jitka's case. Jitka is gone."

Dave Workman, editor of TheGunMag.com and a local gun-rights advocate, said it's illegal to sell a firearm to a foreign national. "Adding another law is not going to prevent something like this from happening," he said.

"Ladera already violated an existing gun law, which is why he was prosecuted and sentenced," he said. "It's never been clear why people think passing another law is going to prevent someone from breaking that law, too."

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)2012 The Seattle Times

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