DENVER The man who illegally sold Sulejman Talovic a handgun used in the 2007 Trolley Square shootings has been released from prison, but if the parents of one victim have their way, Mackenzie Glade Hunter could be facing a longer sentence.
An attorney for Ken and Sue Antrobus whose daughter, Vanessa Quinn, was killed in the massacre was back in front of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday, seeking victim status for his clients and arguing Hunter knew more about Talovic's plans than federal investigators previously let on.
"We think there's compelling evidence that Hunter knew something bad was going to happen with the firearm," said attorney Paul Cassell, who asked for the case to be remanded to U.S. District Court.
A federal judge in Salt Lake City has ruled the Antrobuses are victims under the Crime Victims' Rights Act in the shooting of their daughter, but not in the sale of the handgun used to kill her. In January, the 10th Circuit Court agreed and denied the Antrobuses' appeal.
Hunter swapped the .38 Special used to kill Quinn for $800 in a McDonald's parking lot eight months before Talovic killed five people and injured four others on Feb. 12, 2007. But just how much Talovic, then 17, discussed his plans for the weapon with Hunter has been a source of contention in court.
The Antrobuses have long believed Hunter knew Talovic wanted the gun for a bank robbery. Meanwhile, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report containing an interview with Hunter has been sealed.
In a brief filed last month, however, the government seemingly confirmed the Antrobuses' suspicions.
When "Hunter asked Talovic why he wanted a gun," according to the brief, Talovic replied that "he wanted a gun to use to rob a bank."
Michael Rotker, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, argued the District Court had that information when it originally ruled against the Antrobuses. Rotker said even if Hunter knew Talovic planned to rob a bank, there were too many factors over the eight-month gap for Hunter to foresee the damage Talovic would cause.
Rotker also argued the Antrobuses, a nonparty in the criminal case, do not have the right to appeal under the CVRA, and cautioned the 10th Circuit Court that it would set a "very dangerous precedent" if it ordered the remand of Hunter's case.
The government "made a considered decision based on a number of factors," Rotker said. "Even though the United States has made a decision not to appeal, they are trying to go and usurp that."
Cassell said the CVRA, established in 2004, was designed to protect people like the Antrobuses and said granting them the ability to appeal would not hinder the government's ability to effectively prosecute criminals.
"The day is long gone for crime victims to be treated as second-class citizens," Cassell said. "Congress would want you to keep the courthouse doors open."
In light of what he called the "dramatic new evidence," Cassell asked the court Monday to recognize Quinn's parents as victims and remand the case. That legal status would allow them to seek restitution and give them the chance to speak at sentencing and ask for harsher penalties.
Hunter was released from federal prison Friday after serving more than a year of his 15-month sentence. But if the case is sent back to the District Court, the Antrobuses said they would ask for a 99-month sentence.
"I've got my speech written for that," Sue Antrobus said Sunday in a telephone interview with the Deseret News. "I doubt if I'll ever get to say it."
She said she believes a tougher sentence for the illegal sale of a weapon would help prevent future tragedies. Sue Antrobus said she is still serving her "life sentence."
"Vanessa had everything. She had everything," Antrobus said. "She was young and ready to have kids. They just bought a brand-new house. She loved life. Nobody ever had anything wrong to say about Vanessa. If everybody was like her, it would be a great world to live in.
"That night, Hunter made $800 and signed my daughter's death certificate," Antrobus added.
In a letter given to the court prior to his sentencing, Hunter apologized to the Antrobus family for selling the handgun to the underage Talovic, but he said he did not know how the gun would be used.
Sue Antrobus said her family has suffered through sleepless nights and shed tears nearly every day since the shooting. She said her family has been accused of seeking revenge against Hunter and has been told to move on.
"This is not about revenge. This is for victims' rights," Sue Antrobus said. "People have to realize for every victim like Vanessa and everyone who was murdered that day, there's a family behind them who are suffering and will continue to suffer for the rest of their lives."
The mother of a daughter who was killed while meeting up with her husband to buy the wedding ring they couldn't afford at the time of their ceremony, Sue Antrobus said she feels victimized by both Hunter and the judicial system.
"The court system wants to push you underneath the rug," she said. "If enough people speak up, maybe they'll start listening."
Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney in Utah, said her office sympathizes with the Antrobuses and the other families who lost loved ones at Trolley Square, and said the government has tried to extend as much support to those families as possible.
"We understand what the victims went through, and we are very sympathetic," she said outside the 10th Circuit courtroom Monday. "The bottom line is this is a federal gun case and not a homicide case."
The 10th Circuit Court is expected to make a ruling on the Antrobuses' case in three to six months.The Antrobuses have said they would take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.