That’s all it took for a federal prosecutor and a court-appointed attorney to sway the judge.
Probation. No jail. House arrest. It was the equivalent of a judicial slap on the wrist.
This for the man who bought at least one, but possibly three, of the four guns a white supremacist used when he murdered three Kansas City area residents.
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John Mark Reidle was sentenced in mid-January for buying one shotgun for F. Glenn Miller Jr. at a Wal-Mart in southern Missouri.
Yet Miller has repeatedly told a Star reporter that Reidle, his former Klansman buddy, bought three guns for him — the Wal-Mart purchase and then two more long guns. And that all three guns were used during the April 2014 murders.
The families of the victims — Reat Underwood, William Corporon and Terri LaManno — were not at the proceedings in a Springfield federal courtroom. They were not consulted on the sentencing. They were not assisted by a victim’s advocate. That’s because the law does not view them as victims of the straw purchase.
Instead, the families read about the conclusion of Reidle’s case in the newspaper, or heard as word spread among relatives.
To them, Reidle’s role in the homicides was treated like a loose end to be tied up. The case went forth as if the straw buyer purchase was a victimless crime. To the families, that is the most hurtful of all.
“Would she have imposed that sentence if my mom and sister were there?” asked Will Corporon, whose father and nephew were shot and killed. “As a family, we are hurt that the government didn’t think enough of us to involve us in that case.”
On Tuesday, the Corporon family faxed a complaint letter to the U.S. attorney’s office, Western District of Missouri, detailing their concerns.
Now that Corporon has read the court transcript, he’s infuriated, left reeling with more questions.
“This whole thing is very frustrating and upsetting for us,” he said. “Why have the law if you are not going to enforce it?”
U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips asked the same question.
In fact, she raised it repeatedly during the sentencing and expressed a hesitancy to be lenient and raised the need for deterrence.
“My point is we have these laws to prevent this particular situation, and we have these laws so that you are liable for that person that you are the straw purchaser for,” Phillips said, according to the transcript.
During the short proceedings, Reidle’s role as a straw buyer was presented as a quick, one-time thing. His Klan membership was described as short-lived, discounted as an intellectually low-functioning man’s desire to find friends.
Reidle checked himself into a mental health institution after learning that Miller had killed 14-year-old Reat and his grandfather outside the Jewish Community Center and LaManno as she arrived to visit her mother at the Village Shalom retirement center.
At the sentencing, Reidle expressed great remorse for his role in the murders.
“I know what I did was wrong,” Reidle told the court. “And I’m sorry for all that has happened.” He also said that he knew not to expect forgiveness from the affected families.
Reidle received five years of probation and 180 days of house arrest. He was assessed $100.
Victimless crime explained
Clearly, much of the Corporon and LaManno family members’ dismay could have been avoided with communication from federal prosecutors.
The families share nothing but praise for how the capital murder trial was handled in Johnson County, where Miller was convicted and sentenced to death in November 2015. And the work of the federal victim’s advocate in Kansas. If anything, the comparisons are why the Missouri federal charge is so disturbing to them.
An emotionally vacuous but legally sound explanation exists for why the families were shut out.
The LaMannos and Corporons would not be considered designated victims under federal rules, explained Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in the Western District of Missouri.
“They weren’t harmed by the act of the straw purchase,” he said. “Certainly they were harmed. They are victims, but not specifically of Reidle’s actions.”
Hence, the reading that the straw buyer purchase as a victimless crime. Miller couldn’t have legally bought the gun himself because he was a convicted felon.
Now some family members wonder if they were too gracious, too compliant during the proceedings to convict Miller. Had they allowed their deep grief to be public, the trauma of their loss to be unsettling, would the outcome of the straw buyer case been different? Victims of violence should never be forced to contemplate such questions.
Evil of the scale that descended on the Corporon and LaManno families must be met with an equal vengeance by the law.
That means ensuring that families are included, consulted, kept in the loop with all proceedings. If that takes changes in the laws governing straw buyers, then Will Corporon is ready to speak out.
Phillips, the federal assistant prosecutor and Reidle’s defense attorney declined to comment.
Common sense would say that the families should have been contacted. But legally the federal prosecutors could not reach out to them without violating privacy rights of the defendant.
A six- to 12-month sentencing range and probation would fall within the scope of federal sentencing guidelines, given Reidle’s lack of a significant prior criminal history, his behavior post-arrest and other factors, Ledford said. Reidle readily admitted to investigators about lying on a federal form, falsely claiming that the Wal-Mart gun was for him.
Still, Phillips commented at the sentencing, “I’m kind of surprised that I’m coming to this conclusion because that was not my intent when I first read the pre-sentence report.”
And the question remains why Reidle was not charged with more straw purchase buys.
If it is true that at least one of the other guns came from a gun show possibly without a background check, or lax actions by a gun shop owner, an opportunity might have been missed.
Regardless of whether Reidle ultimately deserved leniency, the charge could show how loopholes were complicit in helping a white supremacist carry out three heinous murders.
Corporon, his sister Mindy Corporon and Terri LaManno’s husband, Jim LaManno, believe that all possible charges should have been filed.
The deterrence effect on the public is important to them. And to record how guns move from sales into the hands of criminals.
“If you are going to have straw buyer laws, you have to enforce them,” LaManno said.
Straw buyers are rarely successfully prosecuted, just one of the facts that the grieving families are now discovering.
The plea agreement federal prosecutors worked out with Reidle gives some clue to what else investigators might know. The wording says the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District “agrees not to bring any additional charges against defendant for any federal criminal offenses related to making a false statement in acquisition of a firearm for which it has venue and which arose out of the defendant’s conduct described above.”
“The fact that the language is there indicates that the government believes that all of the information has been uncovered,” Ledford said.
He also stressed the thoroughness of a pre-sentencing report, which the judge would also consult.
“If there were other firearms, I’m confident that the judge was aware of that and took that into consideration,” Ledford said.
The report is not a public record.
Another influence might have been that Reidle’s cooperation was not needed to make the case against Miller, who boasted of the murders at his trial. He had set out to kill Jewish people, but all of his victims were Christian.
On multiple occasions, Miller has told The Star that he gave Reidle cash for the purchase of three of the guns, not just one.
“I told him to go buy them anywhere,” Miller told Kansas City Star reporter Judy Thomas in a 2014 interview. “Gun shows, Wal-Mart, Bass Pro, gun shows from individuals.”
Miller admitted that he duped his friend, preying on his lower level of intelligence. And that he lied to Reidle to con him into buying the gun at Wal-Mart, an act that was captured on video.
“He bought three,” Miller told Thomas in March 2015. “Two shotguns and the rifle.”
But that’s not what prosecutors pursued in public documents.
In addition, Phillips was told that Reidle left the Klan in 2003 and that his association was merely cursory.
But Miller gives a different version. He said that Reidle was a “racialist” and that together, with another man who has since died, the three littered their Ozark communities with Klan literature. He said that Reidle also helped when Miller ran as a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri in 2010.
And other reports from shortly after the murders said that Reidle was well known for flying a Nazi flag outside his home near Aurora, Mo.
Why not make Miller an example?
Both the Corporon and LaManno families are sensitive to Reidle’s circumstance. He dropped out of school in the middle of the eighth grade, according to the court transcript, and may have only attained about a third-grade level of knowledge. There is also the suggestion of a learning disability that was never addressed.
LaManno volunteers as the staff dentist for the men’s prison in Cameron, Mo. He noted sympathetically that an inmate with a lower intelligence would not fare well in prison.
For them, the question is with the law.
“How can they say there were no victims?” Mindy Corporon said. “We would have wanted to be given the opportunity to have a say on the straw buyer.”
Miller set out to terrorize a specific community, our Jewish residents. He slaughtered people who just happened to cross his path the day he slithered into town, ensuring that no one was safe from his putrid, racist, anti-Semitic self.
And yet no hate crime charges were ever filed. That fact has also continued to weigh on the families. Miller is a domestic terrorist, yet that moniker is rarely used for him.
“Why not make an example of him at every level?” asked Will Corporon. “For the straw buyer purchase, for the hate crime, for everything to say, ‘We are not going to tolerate this.’ ”
Vigils are nice. And the heartfelt community support has been a testament to the phrase used shortly after the killings: Love wins.
Justice needs to be served, fully and completely, for the Corporon and LaManno families.
What is a straw purchase?
A straw purchase is when a buyer of a firearm cannot pass the required federal background check, or does not want his or her full name associated with the purchase, and has someone else who can pass the background check purchase the firearm for him or her.
National Shooting Sports Foundation