Crime - Sacto 911

Trial in weapons sales ends with not-guilty verdict and deadlock

A 15-day trial of a former sheriff’s deputy and a gun dealer in Sacramento federal court on charges of illegal weapons sales ended Monday after a jury failed to reach a verdict.

The jury returned a not-guilty verdict for a third defendant, Ulysses Simpson Grant Early IV. He had been charged with purchasing a gun from a Roseville police officer.

U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley declared a mistrial for the other two defendants, former Sacramento County Deputy Ryan McGowan and onetime licensed firearms dealer Robert Snellings Jr., after the jury declared that it was hopelessly deadlocked.

“There are firm beliefs on both sides,” jurors said in a note to Nunley.

Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said no decision had been made about whether to retry McGowan and Snellings.

Early, 37, of Sacramento, was accused of buying a Ruger model LCP, a .380-caliber handgun, from Roseville police Officer Tait Christopher Kjellberg in May 2010. Civilians cannot legally buy the weapons directly from licensed dealers. Kjellberg resigned from the department and was not charged.

Early faced only one count in the eight-count indictment. The count also alleged that he conspired to falsify Snellings’ business records to show Kjellberg as the buyer of the gun. Kjellberg actually bought the gun from Snellings and sold it to Early a month later through Snellings, according to the indictment.

“This is not a case of felons trying to circumvent background checks or make it more difficult for the government to trace their transactions,” Early’s lawyer, Donald E.J. Kilmer Jr., argued in court papers. “They fully complied with all federal and state laws during both transactions.”

McGowan, 33, of Elk Grove, was charged with dealing in arms without a license and with conspiring to make false statements in sales records at Snellings’ gun shop. He is accused of purchasing handguns that cannot be bought directly from a dealer by members of the public and selling them to civilians at a healthy markup.

His lawyer contends McGowan does not fit the legal definition of “firearms dealer” and is excluded from the license requirement as a person “who makes occasional sales, exchanges or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection.”

Snellings, 63, of Rancho Murieta, was charged alone on four counts of maintaining false records.

Snellings’ lawyer, J. Jeffries Goodwin, argued in court papers that there is no law preventing the sale of “off-roster” firearms from a sworn officer to a civilian so long as they use a licensed dealer.

Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.