CEDAR RAPIDS – The rising number of deaths due to unintentional shootings connected to drug users with guns has gotten the attention of the U.S. attorney in Iowa.
Between 2015 and 2017, there was a nationwide increase in the number of deaths due to unintentional shootings, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Northern Iowa. Unfortunately, Iowa has not been immune to this trend. Unintentional shootings with illegally possessed guns present a danger to everyone in our community, but especially to children. The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa and its law enforcement partners are committed to continuing to make Iowa safer by addressing this problem through the enforcement of all federal laws limiting who can possess firearms. Under federal law it is illegal for an unlawful drug user to possess a firearm. Four recent prosecutions involving unlawful drug users in possession of firearms highlight the risks associated with these types of violations as well as the commitment to deterring future violations.
The four cases, described in more detail below, are the investigation and prosecution of Daniel Henriksen, 30, from Elgin, Iowa; Robyn Lynn Merchant, 55, from Vinton, Iowa; Raven Harris, 27, and Willie Earl Horsley, Sr., 31, both from Dubuque, Iowa, and Dale Edward White, 26, from Nashua, Iowa. All of these cases involved an unintentional shooting resulting in death or serious injury, and all of these cases involved the possession of a firearm by an illegal drug user. The cases demonstrate why guns and drugs are a dangerous combination.
“Federal law prohibits certain people from owning or even handling guns,” said United States Attorney Peter E. Deegan, Jr. “These include not only unlawful drug users, but convicted felons, convicted domestic abusers, persons with certain mental health histories, and illegal aliens. All of these shootings – including those resulting in the deaths of children – would have been avoided if the people involved had been following the law.” Deegan added, “As these cases also demonstrate, the consequences of illegally possessing a gun can include a felony conviction, going to federal prison, and being under court supervision for years. These cases highlight the commitment of local, state, and federal law enforcement to continue the fight against gun crime and to make our streets safer as part of Project Safe Neighborhood.”
The four recent prosecutions are:
At the time Merchant provided her son with the firearm, he was an unlawful user of marijuana. Her son regularly used marijuana in Merchant’s home, and a urine sample obtained from him the night of the shooting tested positive for marijuana. The night of the shooting, police saw evidence of recent drug and alcohol use in plain view in Merchant’s son’s bedroom. Police eventually seized a marijuana smoking pipe, drug paraphernalia, approximately seven ounces of marijuana individually packaged into eight separate plastic bags, and drug packaging materials from the bedroom. During the investigation, law enforcement learned that Merchant and her son conspired with each other to distribute marijuana from their residence. Some of their customers included other high school students who were friends of Merchant’s son.
On May 23, 2016, Merchant pled guilty to transferring a firearm to a prohibited person (a drug user). Merchant was sentenced on October 24, 2016, in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Chief Judge Linda R. Reade. Merchant was sentenced to 46 months’ imprisonment. She must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term.
On April 27, 2016, White pled guilty to possessing a firearm and ammunition as a drug user. On August 31, 2016, he was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Judge Linda R. Reade. White was sentenced to 47 months’ imprisonment. He must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term.
On April 20, 2016, both Harris and Horsley pled guilty to being drug users in possession of a firearm and ammunition. On August 30, 2016, they were each sentenced in Cedar Rapids to a five-year term of probation by United States District Court Judge Linda R. Reade. On November 14, 2017, Judge Reade found that Horsley had violated the terms of his probation and sentenced him to 9 months’ imprisonment to be followed by a two-year term of supervised release.
On September 1, 2017, Henriksen pled guilty to being a drug user in possession of a firearm, specifically the Glock 36 .45 caliber handgun used in the shooting. Henriksen was sentenced on February 21, 2017, in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Chief Judge Leonard T. Strand. Henriksen was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment. He must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term.
There is no parole in the federal system.
These cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lisa C. Williams and were investigated by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office (Henriksen); the Vinton Police Department, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, the Department of Homeland Security, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (Merchant); the Dubuque Police Department (Harris and Horsley); and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Nashua Police Department, the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office, and the Iowa State Patrol (White).