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June 29, 2012 at 12:31 PM

Prison for Kent man who illegally sold gun used in murder

A Kent man was  sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to one year in prison for illegally selling a firearm to a Canadian man who later used it to kill an Illinois woman.

Benedict Ladera, 31, pleaded guilty in March for selling a .40-caliber handgun to Demetry Smirnov, a Canadian citizen. Smirnov used the gun to kill 36-year-old Jitka Vesel, of  Oak Brook, Ill.

Smirnov, 21, of Surrey, B.C., was sentenced to life in prison for shooting Vesel, 36, a dozen times on April 13, 2011.

Smirnov immigrated to Canada with his family from Russia in 2005, according to the Chicago Tribune.

He met Vesel through the World of Warcraft, an online role playing game, said Theresa O’Rourke, who was close friends with Vesel. When Smirnov said he was going to be visiting the Chicago-area, Vesel invited him to stay with her. She was never romantically interested in him, O’Rourke said.

“He had in his mind that this was some romantic relationship,” O’Rourke said. She said that when Vesel spurned Smirnov he started stalking her. Vesel reached out to police in Illinois, federal law enforcement and police in Canada for help, O’Rourke said.

According to federal prosecutors in Illinois, Smirnov, an unemployed computer technician, entered the U.S. in late March 2011 and spent a week driving through a number of Western states. He purchased the handgun in a private transaction with Ladera and then paid a homeless man in Spokane to buy bullets, since Smirnov could not legally purchase them.

During Ladera’s sentencing this morning, U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik said selling a gun via the Internet to someone he knew nothing about was reckless. “Guns are killing people all over our country every day. … We cannot afford to lose the people we are losing (to gun violence), Lasnik said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle said Ladera advertised the gun for sale on the website and sold the handgun to Smirnov outside a Federal Way casino.  Ladera knew Smirnov was not a state resident when he sold the gun, and accepted an extra $200 for the gun because he was aware Smirnov was Canadian, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Ladera had no knowledge of Smirnov’s plan to stalk and murder Vesel, federal proscutors said.

O’Rourke, who said she was friends with Vesel for 28 years, spoke during this morning’s sentencing and afterward.

“The message is about keeping guns out of criminal hands. It’s too late to make a difference in Jitka’s case, Jitka is gone,” O’Rourke said. “Jitka was the greatest person I’ve ever known.”

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