Prosecutors say Raymond Fryberg deserves 33 months in prison for illegally owning guns, including the pistol used by his son in a 2014 high- school shooting that left five dead; defense says he has suffered enough
Federal prosecutors are asking that the father of a teenager who shot and killed four classmates at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in 2014 be sent to prison for 33 months when he is sentenced Monday for illegally possessing six guns, including the. 40-caliber pistol used by his son in the slayings.
Lawyers for Raymond Lee Fryberg Jr., however, say the tragic case has unfairly turned him into a “poster child” for perceived shortcomings in gun laws. They ask U.S. District Judge James Robart not to imprison Fryberg at all for his September convictions on six counts of illegally buying and possessing firearms.
“It cannot be ignored that Fryberg’s unlawful possession of the Beretta PX4 Storm, .40 caliber handgun is indirectly related to the use of that handgun by his 15-year-old son,” Jaylen, who on Oct. 24, 2014, used it to kill four classmates, wound a fifth, then take his own life in the cafeteria, wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Ye-Ting Woo.
Woo said the government recognizes Fryberg can’t be punished for actions of others, but argued that the fact Fryberg illegally had the gun and allowed his son to have access to it “cannot be ignored and certainly played a contributing role” in the deaths.
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Even so, prosecutors argued against an even stiffer penalty, stating that the “unimaginable heartbreak suffered by Fryberg and his immediate family from the suicide of their son weighs against” it.
It is that overwhelming grief that Fryberg’s attorney, John Henry Browne, says argues against prison.
“At the heart of this case lies … a grieving father whose world shattered beyond any hope of repair on Oct. 24,” Browne wrote in a memo to the court. “For a brief, stoic moment, Mr. Fryberg truly believed his circumstances could get no worse. His son was gone, his family forever broken.”
Then, Brown said, federal agents — bowing to community pressure — came to his door. Since then, Browne argued, the case has attracted national attention and has become “synonymous with the national epidemic of firearms used to facilitate mass killings.”
“As a consequence, Mr. Fryberg became the poster child for what many believe are legislative deficiencies in the current system for firearms background checks,” Browne wrote.
When Fryberg was indicted last April, the grand jury alleged he had lied on federal forms he filled out when he purchased the guns because he declared, under penalty of perjury, that he had not been convicted of a domestic-violence crime.
Prosecutors showed that, at the time, he was subject to a domestic-violence protective order issued by a Tulalip tribal judge in 2002. Fryberg pleaded no contest in tribal court to violating the order in 2012, court records show.
The government says that should have prevented him from purchasing firearms, but that flaws in the instant-background-check system allowed him to “slip under the screen” of several law-enforcement databases.
An investigation into the school shootings revealed Jaylen Fryberg was anguished over splitting up with his girlfriend and had texted several friends to meet him in the cafeteria. When they arrived, he pulled a handgun from his backpack and opened fire, killing four of them and wounding another before killing himself.
Evidence during Raymond Fryberg’s three-day trial showed that information about the domestic-violence order was never entered into federal databases used in background checks for gun purchases. As a result, Fryberg was able to buy 11 guns and obtain a concealed-carry permit over the years.
The U.S. Department of Justice has since begun working more closely with Indian tribes to share that information.
Browne argued that the facts of the case, when separated from the emotions of the school killings, don’t warrant a prison term. He said Fryberg, a member of the Tulalip Tribes, is a “humble man” who had worked for the Tulalips over the years. He has since been shunned by many in the community, he said.
“The collateral consequences Mr. Fryberg has endured could be no greater nor more extreme,” Browne wrote.
Fryberg submitted several dozen letters of support. The government also filed several letters presumably seeking prison for Fryberg; however they were sealed by the judge because their authors — including tribal members and others familiar with Fryberg — did not want their names revealed.
Prosecutors said Fryberg had “recklessly” stored firearms at home, even months after the school shootings. When police searched the home five months after the killings, agents found five rifles stacked at the foot of his bed. Three children were in the home at the time, court documents say.