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Jury Orders Gun Seller to Pay

A weapons distributor is largely spared blame in the shooting death of a teacher by a student.

November 15, 2002|From Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A jury ordered a weapons distributor Thursday to pay $1.2 million to the widow of a teacher gunned down by a 13-year-old student, largely sparing the company from blame in the closely watched case.

Jurors found Valor Corp. to be 5% responsible for the slaying of Barry Grunow, who was shot two years ago at a Lake Worth middle school.

The jury said Valor didn't sell the gun with a safety feature, such as a lock, that could have prevented Nathaniel Brazill from pulling the trigger. But the $24-million verdict placed 95% of the blame on the Palm Beach County School Board and the gun's owner.

The six-woman jury held the school board 45% liable for allowing Brazill on campus with a gun in his pocket to kill his favorite teacher and ordered it to pay $10.8 million. Jurors found the gun's owner 50% liable and ordered him to pay $12 million.

Neither were named as defendants, and attorneys in the case said they would not be expected to pay anything to Pam Grunow and her children, 7-year-old Samuel and 3-year-old Lee-Anne.

Attorneys for Grunow said the verdict marked the first time a gun distributor had been found liable in a shooting death.

"This is a huge victory for safer guns," said Allen Rostron, an attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "The jury ruled this company could have distributed a safer gun that would have made it harder for Nathaniel Brazill to commit this murder."

Valor's attorney, John Renzulli, characterized the verdict as a win for the defense because Grunow had asked for $75 million.

"I think this will have no impact whatsoever on the gun industry," he said.

Both sides say they plan to appeal, and Grunow's team said it will try to have Valor pay all $24 million.

The case was the first brought against the firearms industry to target the absence of a gun lock and the overall design of a cheap, easily concealable weapon.

The plaintiff's attorneys said Valor was notified thousands of times by federal officials that products it distributed were used in crimes, but that the company did nothing to make the weapons safer.

Renzulli blamed the slaying on Brazill and Elmore McCray, who owned the .25-caliber Raven handgun and stored it in a drawer, unlocked and loaded, where it was found by the boy.

Renzulli also said locking devices can be picked and potentially inhibit people who own guns for self-protection

Brazill was not mentioned in the verdict. The boy, who was tried as an adult, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for killing the 35-year-old English teacher who had refused to let him talk to girls in his class.

Brazill insisted the gun went off accidentally.

The gun manufacturer, Raven Arms, is no longer in business.

Grunow's attorneys had hoped for a verdict large enough to force companies to stop selling the Raven, known on the street as a "Saturday night special" because of its small size and low cost of about $75.

Attorney Bob Montgomery, known for successfully spearheading the state's efforts to sue Big Tobacco for $11.3 billion, said he hoped the gun case would achieve the same crippling results against the gun industry.

"Pam wanted to vindicate to whatever extent she could this terrible tragedy that's been visited on everybody -- her, Nathaniel Brazill, McCray, all the families -- by showing that this 'Saturday night special' has no business being in commerce," he said. "I think that we've done that."

Pam Grunow's lawsuits against McCray and the Hypoluxo Pawn Shop, where the gun was purchased, were settled for a total of $575,000.

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