The prosecution of a troubled veteran for having a homemade shotgun he intended to use to take his own life has triggered concern from veterans groups.
While a federal judge did not appear impressed Tuesday with the legal basis of a motion to dismiss the firearms charges against Sean Duvall, the Roanoke hearing was watched by the president of a local veterans group. Duvall’s lawyer said he has been contacted by numerous veterans and advocates concerned about the prosecution.
Duvall last year called a suicide prevention service advertised as providing “confidential” help for veterans. He received treatment and says he is now back on his feet. But police turned his simple pipe gun over to federal authorities, and he was charged with four felonies for making and having an “explosive device.”
Facing a skeptical judge, public defender Randy Cargill said the charges should be dismissed simply because, under the circumstances, they shock the conscience. “This man represented no threat to anyone but himself,” Cargill told U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson.
“This was a man at his lowest point. He called for help. It is morally wrong to use the evidence against him that was only found because he called for help,” Cargill argued.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Wolthuis argued no one connected with the case violated Duvall’s due process rights. “Sympathetic factors cannot, in and of themselves, create some kind of immunity,” he said.
After the hearing, Daniel Karnes, president of the Roanoke Valley Veterans Council, said he was concerned about the message sent by the decision to prosecute Duvall. “If this man’s prosecuted, I can’t imagine anybody would want to call the V.A.,” he said.
Wilson said he would issue an opinion on the motion to dismiss “in due course,” but he also called the lawyers back to his chambers for further discussion, a signal the judge may be encouraging an agreed disposition.
By Peter Vieth