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Man Pleads Guilty to Selling Gun to Columbine Killers

Conviction is the first stemming from Colorado high school massacre that killed 15. Sentence could reach nine years.

August 19, 1999|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — The man who sold Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold the assault-style pistol the teens used in their attack on Columbine High School pleaded guilty Wednesday to providing a weapon to a minor.

Mark Manes was the first person convicted in connection with the April 20 rampage that left 15 dead, including Harris and Klebold. Manes, who attended Columbine, also admitted Wednesday that he sold Harris 100 rounds of ammunition the night before their assault on the school in suburban Littleton.

According to Manes' attorney, the computer programmer sold Harris the ammunition and asked if he was going to go shooting that night. Harris reportedly said no, he was going shooting the next day.

In a brief court appearance, Manes also pleaded guilty to possession of two illegal sawed-off shotguns that he used at a shooting range with Harris and Klebold weeks before the attack. Manes will be sentenced on both counts on Oct. 14. He faces up to six years in jail for providing the handgun and three years for the shotgun charge.

Attorney Robert Ransome said his client had no idea the gun he sold would be used in the attack and was "horrified" when it occurred. The guilty plea, Ransome said, came because the Manes family wanted to do the right thing. Manes' mother is a member of Handgun Control Inc., a national organization that advocates stricter gun control laws.

"Even though Mark had no idea about what was going to happen at Columbine, just the fact that he played a part in the chain of events and was involved with the handgun, the entire family felt strongly that he needed to take responsibility," Ransome told reporters after the hearing.

Manes accompanied Harris and Klebold on one of their frequent trips to the mountains to fire weapons. On one such trip in March, Manes and the teens experimented with the TEC-DC9, the semiautomatic pistol he had sold them months before.

Jefferson County Deputy Dist. Atty. Steve Jensen said Manes should receive a prison sentence for his role in the massacre.

"This crime calls out for responsibility," Jensen said. "So our office has taken the position that we want to impose responsibility--full responsibility."

Jensen said it was Harris who asked Manes to purchase the ammunition. Manes did, buying two boxes of 9-millimeter ammunition at a Kmart before driving to Harris' house April 19. He sold Harris the 100 rounds for $25.

Manes obtained the semiautomatic handgun at a gun show last fall and sold it to Harris and Klebold on Jan. 23 for $500. The other three guns used in the attack were purchased by Klebold's prom date, Robyn K. Anderson.

According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Anderson, 18, purchased two shotguns and a rifle at a gun show here in December. Under Colorado law, an 18-year-old may purchase shotguns or rifles and give them to minors. Anderson has been considered a witness in the case, not a suspect, and has not been charged.

Manes was introduced to Harris and Klebold by Philip Duran, who delivered pizzas for a Littleton store where the teens worked. As the middleman in the deal, Duran, 22, is charged with providing a gun to a minor. He is scheduled to appear in court next week.

Manes and Duran are named in a civil suit brought by the family of Isaiah Shoels, who was killed in the rampage. Also named are the parents of Harris and Klebold. The TEC-DC9 is the focus of the wrongful death claim.

"The thing that is important is that it wasn't just a weapon, it was an automatic weapon that can expend a lot more rounds than a rifle or a shotgun," said Jack Beam, the Shoels' Littleton attorney. "If you believe the police, then you have to believe that at least one of the reasons that it took so long to get into the school was because of automatic weapon fire."

The gun was made in Miami five years ago and had changed hands legally a number of times in the Denver area. TEC-DC9 handguns may no longer be made in the United States.

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