East Hartford man gets probation for owning gun while using pot

Alex Wood, Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn.
·3 min read

Feb. 22—An East Hartford man who admitted to federal agents that he had been using marijuana regularly while owning a gun was sentenced last week to three years' probation by a judge who said marijuana will soon be legal and called his situation "tragic."

In explaining the background of the case against the man, James Holmes, 31, prosecutor Michael J. Gustafson expressed suspicion that Holmes had "illegally disposed" of 20 guns in the years before agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives met with him on Feb. 22, 2019.

But the only things Holmes admitted to the ATF agents during the meeting at his East Hartford home were that he had smoked marijuana twice a week for the last 10 years and that he lacked a prescription for marijuana, according to the prosecutor's sentencing memorandum.

GUN SENTENCE

DEFENDANT: James Holmes, 31, of East Hartford

GUILTY PLEA: Possession of a firearm by an illegal user of a controlled substance, marijuana

SENTENCE: Three years' probation

During the visit, Holmes led the investigators to a safe that contained a semi-automatic handgun. Holmes told the agents that his other 20 guns had been stolen along with his mother's sport-utility vehicle when he left the vehicle running with the guns in the back seat, according to the prosecutor. He and his mother had reported those thefts to East Hartford police three days earlier.

The agents told Holmes that his illegal use of marijuana made it illegal for him to possess guns, and they took possession of the semi-automatic handgun. Holmes filled out paperwork consenting to the "forfeiture" of the gun to the ATF.

He pleaded guilty in October 2019 to possession of a firearm by an illegal user of a controlled substance.

The two sides agreed at that time that federal sentencing guidelines called for Holmes to receive a sentence in the range of 10 to 16 months in prison, although a federal probation officer later computed a guideline range of 18 to 24 months' imprisonment.

The prosecutor acknowledged that Holmes' personal characteristics "on balance inure to his advantage" in sentencing.

Holmes had never been arrested before, and he had done well since his arrest, never testing positive for drug use, generally holding a job, and receiving mental health treatment, the prosecutor wrote.

Assistant Federal Defender Charles F. Willson added in his sentencing memo that Holmes is "the attentive father of two young sons," whose care is primarily his responsibility.

When Holmes was 19, his brother was murdered in Hartford.

"He lives with that night playing through his mind again and again," the defense lawyer wrote. "His brother's killer has yet to be determined."

Holmes was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after his arrest, Willson wrote.

But the prosecutor suggested that Holmes' traumatic history wasn't entirely favorable to him in sentencing, writing that he "ought to know the danger of gun violence" and be much more careful with guns.

Before imposing sentence, Judge Vanessa L. Bryant said Holmes had "self-medicated with marijuana, which will soon be legal federally and in Connecticut."

She said he has some college education, works consistently, and takes care of his children. She called the case, which leaves Holmes with a felony record, "a tragic situation."

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