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Five Years In Prison For Man Who Provided Gun In Westerville Police Shootings

A tribute to two Westerville officers, who were killed in an apparent ambush while responding to a 9-1-1 call.
Nick Evans

An Ohio man was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday for providing the gun used in a shooting that killed two police officers this year.

Prosecutors had sought the five-year prison term for defendant Gerald Lawson, saying Lawson knew that Quentin Smith, his lifelong friend, had a violent past that prohibited him from buying or owning a gun.

Federal Judge Edmund Sargus handed down the sentence in a courtroom filled with police officers, many of them from suburban Westerville, including chief Joe Morbitzer.

It was in Westerville that officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering were shot Feb. 11 responding to a 911 hang-up call at a townhome in the Columbus suburb where Smith lived.

"To be clear, Lawson did not kill the officers. Smith did," U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman said in a statement after the sentencing. "But Lawson is responsible for putting a gun in Smith's hands, and his sentence today reflects that responsibility."

Defense attorneys wanted six months of house arrest, followed by three years of probation.

"Mr. Lawson is eternally sorry and ashamed that he aided Mr. Smith in securing the firearm Smith used to kill the two officers," George Chaney Jr., an assistant federal public defender, said in a court filing last week.

Lawson has no criminal background, is remorseful and never dreamed Smith would use the weapon on police, Chaney said.

Lawson pleaded guilty in May to aiding and abetting a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.

Smith was indicted in March on charges that carry the possibility of a death sentence. He has pleaded not guilty.

A criminal complaint says Smith gave Lawson the money to buy the gun — a Glock semi-automatic — along with $100 for completing the transaction. Smith wasn't allowed to have weapons because of a previous burglary conviction.

The government says Lawson lied on a federal purchasing form when he said he wasn't buying the gun for someone else.