In 1995, four months into his first term as governor, George W. Bush signed a bill ending a 125-year ban on concealed handguns in Texas. The new law, he vowed, would make the state “a safer place,” and he promised Texans that license applicants would undergo rigorous background checks.
But since the law took effect, the state has licensed hundreds of people with prior criminal convictions--including rape and armed robbery--and histories of violence, psychological disorders and drug or alcohol problems, a Times investigation has found.
James W. Washington got a license to carry a concealed weapon despite having done prison time in Texas for armed robbery. So did Terry Ross Gist, who left a trail of threats and violence in court records from North Carolina to California. A license also went to an elderly Dallas man with Alzheimer’s disease.
Still others committed crimes, ranging from double murder to drunk driving, after they were licensed. A frustrated commuter, Paul W. Lueders, shot and severely wounded a Houston bus driver. Audi Phong Nguyen ran with a Houston home invasion ring. Diane Brown James helped her husband kidnap a San Antonio woman to be their sex slave.
About 215,000 Texans are currently licensed to carry concealed weapons. The state concedes that more than 400 were licensed despite prior convictions, and more than 3,000 other licensees have since been arrested.
However, the state never releases the names of individual problem licensees or any details of their crimes. The Times identified more than 200 of those people and examined their cases for the first time.
Johnny Sutton, criminal justice policy advisor to Bush, defended the law by arguing the number of bad licensees is relatively small. He said that the program overall has been a “smashing success.”
“There will always be nightmare cases,” Sutton said in an interview. “Somebody will always get through that we wish wouldn’t, but not that many slip by. When they do, they are caught and [the licenses] revoked. And if they commit a crime, we prosecute them hard.”
Campaign aide Dan Bartlett called the program “a good system . . . that we will continue to improve.” He said that concealed gun licensees are “much more law-abiding than the average citizen.”
Former State Sen. Jerry Patterson, who helped get the law enacted, said he knows of seven instances of license holders stopping crimes. He cited the case of Robert James Eichelberg.
In 1997 at a Houston intersection, Eichelberg was confronted by an armed carjacker at his passenger window. Eichelberg said he “drew a gun that I carry in my truck and I fired.” After exchanging shots, the would-be robber fell seriously wounded.
“That’s the only reason I’m alive today,” Eichelberg said later.
The Texas screening and license enforcement process is closed to public scrutiny and, by law, exempt from open record statutes. The state Department of Public Safety provides only lists with no names of those license holders subject to disciplinary action. Consequently, only a handful of licensees had previously been identified and publicly linked to crimes.
However, the Times investigation traced many of the most serious law violators. It relied on interviews, police reports, court records and other public documents, as well as computer-assisted analyses of state and national databases.
The investigation also found that:
* Because Texas authorities only have 60 days to conduct background checks, they routinely issued licenses before the process was completed. So far, retroactive revocation actions have been launched against the more than 400 who were licensed before out-of-state crime records caught up with Texas officials.
* Background checks do not routinely include interviews with the applicant or with family and friends. State law requires only review of “local official records” and criminal history records.
Applicants often don’t want neighbors knowing they applied for the permit. “If there are no clues, no reasons to suspect a problem, then we don’t go knocking on doors,” said state police Maj. Lee Smith, whose troopers conduct the local checks.
* Troopers do not routinely investigate an applicant’s mental or medical history, beyond a search of local public records, unless suspicious information is found. Doctors and hospitals, concerned about patient privacy, also are reluctant to provide such information. “Sometimes we get complete cooperation; sometimes not,” Maj. Smith said.
But David Gavin, assistant chief of administration for the concealed handgun authority at the Texas Department of Public Safety, said: “We feel we’re effectively using the resources we have available.”
Gavin acknowledged that concealed gun background checks are not as thorough as, for example, those for applicants seeking state trooper jobs. He said such inquiries would be considerably more costly and time-consuming if required.
Gavin blamed some of the early problems on slow FBI response to a deluge of requests for out-of-state crime records in the early years of the program. He said state officials decided to issue licenses even in the face of incomplete background checks to avoid causing delay “for the vast majority of good applicants” who were going to pass anyway.
And Gavin said his staff acted “in a quick and sure manner” to rescind permits when disqualifying information was discovered. He also said the FBI delays have since been corrected and checks that once could take months now take 24 hours.
But The Times investigation identified dozens of cases that could not be blamed on the FBI--cases of criminal histories in Texas that should have been readily available in Texas courts and the investigative files of Texas police agencies.
Already, gun issues define some of the sharpest political differences between the governor’s pro-gun positions and Vice President Al Gore’s support for many gun-control measures.
In Texas, where polls say 62% of residents statewide back a citizen’s right to carry a licensed concealed weapon, Bush’s support of the program has always worked to his political advantage. During the 1994 gubernatorial race, it helped Bush defeat incumbent Gov. Ann Richards, who opposed concealed gun laws.
Opponents said such a measure would encourage more guns on the streets of Texas. Bush agreed with supporters when he said it “gives Texans who feel the need to carry a weapon to protect themselves the right to do so.”
Nationally, the concealed gun program poses potential political liabilities for Bush. While the number of states with such laws has grown, polls show that these laws are controversial--particularly with women and independent voters. A 1999 Los Angeles Times Poll found that 58% of women said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports concealed gun licensing.
Three of the critical swing states--Illinois, Ohio and Missouri--flatly ban carrying concealed weapons. As recently as last year, voters in Missouri rejected a Texas-style gun law, with suburban voters overwhelmingly opposed.
Earlier this year, the GOP presidential candidate said he would not seek a nationwide version of the Texas concealed gun law if elected to the White House. He said it should be left to individual states to decide.
Back in 1995, the legislation delivered to Bush’s desk was touted as the toughest in the country. Even some gun proponents complained about some of the restrictions, particularly rules disqualifying applicants for such things as overdue taxes and child support.
At the signing ceremony--surrounded by bill sponsors and representatives of the National Rifle Assn.--the new governor declared the law a fulfillment of his campaign pledge and part of “an anti-crime package.” And he addressed fears of possible excesses by armed civilians, saying: “Texas won’t tolerate vigilantes moving around our streets.”
“When the governor signed that bill, a lot of people said there would be blood in the streets, that the Wild West was back,” recalled criminal justice aide Sutton. “Well, the opposite has occurred. People with concealed gun licenses are making Texas a safer place.”
That assessment is not shared by Stacey Anderson, an orthodontist’s assistant who rear-ended the car of license holder Albert Trieu Nguyen four years ago in Houston. Before they could exchange insurance information, Nguyen began wildly firing shots into the air with his semiautomatic handgun. A terrified Anderson fled in her car and was chased through residential streets at speeds approaching 55 mph.
Nguyen’s lawyer later said he was suicidal and “incompetent to stand trial.” Nguyen was sentenced to six years’ probation after pleading guilty to felony assault and his license was revoked.
“It’s too easy to carry guns,” Anderson, now 34, said in an interview. “Having them at home is one thing, but carrying them around. . . . I don’t see the purpose for that.”
The Department of Public Safety was designated the state’s licensing authority. Officials set aside permit No. 1 for Gov. Bush and No. 11 for his wife, Laura. Neither has applied for the license.
Two years later, Bush approved expanding the law to allow concealed weapons in churches, amusement parks and hospitals.
To obtain a license, Texans are not required to state a reason or prove a need. The state must issue a permit to anyone who asks, as long as he or she meets state standards.
Applicants must be 21 and have no history of mental problems. They also must have no felonies or recent misdemeanors in their record; have no convictions for domestic violence; and have no history of drug or alcohol abuse. Applicants also must take a 10-hour course, pass a written test and prove their proficiency with a gun.
The first shooting death directly involving a licensee occurred only 52 days into the new program.
On Feb. 21, 1996, Gordon Hale III, 42, a welding equipment repairman, was involved in a minor traffic accident in Dallas that shattered the side mirror of a delivery van. While stopped in traffic, witnesses told police, van driver Kenny Tavai, 33, walked to Hale’s pickup and started punching him as he sat behind the wheel.
Hale reached for his .40-caliber handgun and killed Tavai with a single shot to the chest. Hale was charged with murder, but a grand jury refused to indict him and the charges were dropped.
It was to be the first of many shootings by license holders.
Many Licensees Were Obviously Unfit
In many cases, concealed gun permits were given to applicants who were obviously unfit. Some had prior conviction records. In other cases, histories of abuse or alarming patterns of dangerous behavior were missed or ignored.
One applicant got his concealed gun permit under the name Jamaal H. Muhammad. What the state missed in its background check was that Muhammad used to be convicted felon James Weldon Washington of Corsicana.
In November 1971, Washington and an accomplice committed a brutal gas station armed robbery that severely wounded an elderly man. Arrested shortly after the crime, Washington was sentenced to 20 years in prison and later changed his name to Muhammad. Eventually authorities matched Muhammad and Washington--and Texas revoked his gun license in 1999.
In Killeen, an emotionally troubled cabdriver, periodically on psychiatric medication, was authorized to carry a concealed handgun until he pleaded no contest to felony sexual assault of a 14-year-old last year. A court-appointed psychiatrist said Ernest T. Turner was legally sane but suffering from a “panic disorder” and in need of psychotherapy. Turner was sentenced to 10 years’ probation and banned from owning guns.
A 69-year-old man in Dallas with Alzheimer’s disease was licensed until he was arrested in 1997 for molesting his 11-year-old granddaughter. It turned out the abuse had been going on since the victim was a first-grader.
In the last four years, Texas has also issued handgun licenses to:
Richard J. Merrill, convicted of the 1969 rape of an International House of Pancakes waitress in Los Angeles; Orville G. Holbert, convicted of manslaughter in Oklahoma in 1958; and Virgil H. Rizer, who pleaded guilty to a 1993 assault in North Carolina for attacking a woman with a frying pan and a stun gun.
State officials, citing confidentiality rules, would not provide details about how long those licenses remained in effect before they were revoked.
In many cases, missed clues were abundant and disqualifying records readily available.
For example, a former Houston sheriff’s deputy was licensed although he had been dismissed from the force a decade earlier and convicted of extorting sexual favors from a single mother with unpaid traffic tickets. The former deputy, Karl R. Prevo, eventually lost his license when he was convicted of assault for severely beating a man during a 1996 traffic dispute in a small town in Illinois.
Among the most notable, however, was the case of Terry Ross Gist.
The 32-year-old from Southern California so loved guns that friends called him “Holsters.” He packed weapons in ankle holsters, tucked them in his waistband and hid them under the front seat of his car. He frequently shopped at gun shows, gun stores and pawnshops.
He also had a violent temper and abusive tendencies. He is serving a 10-year sentence in the Colorado City, Texas, prison. The state has finally moved to revoke his license, though his permit was still in effect as of Monday.
Gist discovered his gun passion as a high school freshman in Long Beach. His father gave him a .410 single-shot shotgun for Christmas. “All the men always had guns in the family,” he said in a prison interview. “And getting that shotgun was a real kick. It was like reaching manhood.”
He became a serious collector after joining the Army. Altogether he served about 10 years in the military, ending up at Ft. Bliss in El Paso.
He applied for his Texas concealed handgun license in 1997. By then his record was littered with red flags.
While stationed in North Carolina in 1993, Gist’s wife, Maryann, sued him for divorce and obtained a restraining order to keep him away from her. She complained in court papers that Gist tried to choke her twice and threatened her with a bow and arrow as well as a gun. Whenever Gist got angry, she said, she had to hide his guns.
While with the Army in Haiti, he said he was arrested for brandishing a 9-millimeter Beretta at a local citizen over a failed souvenir transaction. The matter never came to trial, he said, because he received an early hardship discharge when his marriage broke up.
In the interview, Gist related other stories about his reckless and threatening past.
One time in El Paso, he said, he was awakened one night by burglars. He jumped from bed and grabbed a 9-millimeter Hungarian-made handgun. He rushed outside and dropped to one knee, firing off 15 rounds as the would-be burglars fled.
No one was hit, but friends warned that he could have been charged with a felony since the burglars were running away when he fired. “I just didn’t understand the gun laws,” he shrugged.
But a co-worker of Gist was a state-certified instructor and he signed up for the course. Gist and half a dozen other students attended two, four-hour night classes, and took a written test--one that Gist described as finger-snap easy. “Anybody could pass,” he said, “unless you’re talking about a sub-70 IQ.”
After passing the state background checks, Gist received his license in the mail. That enabled him to carry a Smith & Wesson semiautomatic handgun in the front of his pants and a .22-caliber Taurus semiautomatic in an ankle holster. Sometimes he said that he brought along an extra .45-caliber Smith & Wesson.
One time he was driving to Las Vegas when he became embroiled in a freeway feud with a truck driver. Gist said they exchanged angry gestures, then pulled off the road in an isolated area near Flagstaff, Ariz. The trucker stepped out of his semi cab gripping a tire iron and a lug wrench.
According to Gist, he got out of his car, raised his .45- caliber semiautomatic in plain view and slowly scratched his forehead with the muzzle. The trucker froze in his tracks, Gist said.
“I told him to drop that tire iron down on the ground. I was playing it cool. I told him if he got back in the truck, he could live to see another day.” Both men returned to their vehicles without further incident, Gist said.
In 1998, he sexually assaulted an 8-year-old girl in El Paso. At his sentencing last year, the victim told the judge in a handwritten note: “I believed he would hurt me or kill me. He had lots of guns.”
He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in state prison, though he could be paroled as early as 2004.
Despite severe restrictions against convicted felons possessing firearms, Gist vows: “One way or the other, I will have guns again.”
Gist also remains a supporter of the licensing program. Responding to the fact that about 215,000 other Texans are licensed, he said with a smile, “That’s good. But that’s not enough.”
Another problem licensee was Audi Phong Nguyen. From all appearances, he was the All-American youth. Born in South Vietnam, he was raised a Texan in Houston’s large Asian American community. His friends call him Bruce.
“He’s apparently a pretty intelligent kid,” recalled Houston Police Det. U. P. Hernandez. “He had scholarships for college in California, but he didn’t go because he gave a kidney to a brother to save his life. At least that’s what he said.”
As an applicant for a concealed handgun license, Hernandez said, no one would have suspected Nguyen of being a criminal, even though he was deeply involved in a drug gang. He had never been convicted of any felony.
In June 1995, six months before the concealed license program began, Nguyen was, in fact, part of a gang that committed home invasion robberies. They wore jackets emblazoned with the word “POLICE” to fool residents into opening their doors.
The bandits burst into the home of Roel Pena, killing him after he said he had no marijuana to give them. Two summers later, with the Pena murder still unsolved, police investigated the shooting of Samuel Ontiveros, who was fatally wounded during a botched robbery.
Nguyen was eventually linked to both cases. Nguyen, now 25, pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and murder. He was sentenced to 38 years in prison.
Most Problems Occur After Permits Issued
The largest category of problem licensees involves those who committed crimes after getting their state concealed gun permits. The cases represent domestic disputes, variations on road rage, drunkenness, carelessness and bad judgment under stress. And the bizarre.
* Licensee Diane Brown James and her husband, David James, had outfitted their remote Seguin, Texas, home with whips, chains and other bondage equipment. In April 1997, the couple used a stun gun to kidnap a woman walking alone along a road near San Antonio, intending to keep her as a sex slave.
But a day later, their victim bolted for freedom, running naked to a distant neighbor with the husband in armed pursuit. He was ransacking the neighbor’s house looking for her when sheriff’s deputies arrived. James was killed in the explosion of gunfire that followed.
When Mrs. James returned home from a bowling tournament, she was arrested on aggravated kidnap charges. She was convicted and is serving a 15-year prison term. Her license was revoked.
* Paul W. Lueders, a Houston computer analyst, was so upset when he nearly missed his bus in confusion over a broken destination sign that he shot his park-and-ride bus driver. He drove off in his Chrysler LeBaron, while the wounded Ricky Mack was airlifted by helicopter to a hospital for life-saving artery repair.
Lueders was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to five years’ probation. He also was ordered to take anger management counseling and attend a gun safety course. His concealed handgun license was revoked.
After two years of rehabilitation and physical therapy, Mack recently returned to work. “I still have nightmares and wake up in a cold sweat,” he said.
* In rural Ft. Bend County, licensee James B. Harrison took exception to a power company crew working on his property. Harrison, with a 12-gauge shotgun, walked around the utility truck blasting holes in all four tires while the crew ducked for cover.
Later, felony charges were reduced to a misdemeanor after he apologized and paid for the tires. The court returned his seized shotgun, but the state revoked his concealed handgun license.
* In Arlington, licensee Robert C. Getz Jr. wildly emptied a clip of bullets out his dining room window one night at vandals whom he said broke his window. Getz missed their pickup but riddled a neighbor’s parked car. He was arrested for reckless discharge of a firearm.
“He wasn’t in any danger, yet he still fired those rounds . . . " said Arlington Police Det. Tom Stellato. “Who’s to say that next time those bullets wouldn’t end up hitting someone?”
Getz was sentenced to probation and anger counseling and ordered to surrender his handgun. His license was revoked.
* In the Dallas suburb of Irving, a dispute between Steven Gunta and the father of his ex-girlfriend escalated into an angry confrontation on the girl’s frontyard. The father, licensee Michael G. Phillips, pulled his concealed handgun even as police were arriving. He killed Gunta with a single shot. Phillips was sentenced to five years in prison.
* Two bounty hunters broke into the wrong house in Liberty County and held a couple with a small child at gunpoint. An attorney for licensees John A. Tuttle and Patrick G. McHaney said they were chasing a bail-jumper and “doing the Lord’s work.” Both men pleaded guilty to a felony charge of false imprisonment and were given three years’ probation. Their licenses were revoked.
One case that raises many questions about the effectiveness of state background checks involves a pending case of murder on the Rio Grande.
Patrick G. Bordelon is accused in separate incidents of shooting two Mexican teens in the back.
Bordelon, 53, has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder. He is preparing an insanity defense. Though he passed a state licensing background check, he now says he suffers from a stress disorder dating back to his military service as an Air Force mechanic in Southeast Asia more than 30 years ago.
Larry Pope, a Val Verde County sheriff’s investigator, said Bordelon “seemed to be at war” with Mexicans living just across a narrow stretch of the Rio Grande from his Del Rio home. He and his neighbors complained about a plague of burglaries.
Bordelon was a familiar sight at community meetings “ranting and raving” about Mexicans, according to Eloy Padilla, a Texas Rural Legal Aid lawyer. “He had an extremely violent temper. A thorough background check should have brought that up,” Padilla said.
The background check also missed (or disregarded) Bordelon’s 1981 perjury conviction in Louisiana. Pope said it stemmed from Bordelon’s role in a faked death insurance scam.
And state authorities clearly were unaware that Bordelon had been under psychiatric care and medication as an outpatient at the Kerrville Mental Health Clinic.
The shooting started in June 1999.
According to police accounts, Bordelon encountered a Mexican youth outside his chain-link fence along the river. The teenager, Ivan Misael Sepulveda, said he was trying to retrieve his stray dogs and was heading back to the other side of the river when Bordelon allegedly sprayed him with pellets from his shotgun. Bordelon was charged with attempted murder.
Hundreds of neighbors urged the district attorney to drop the charges, saying Bordelon was protecting his property. And they helped the licensee raise bond money.
A judge reduced bail but insisted that Bordelon possess no firearms “at home or elsewhere.” But five months later, he was arrested again.
This time, according to authorities, Bordelon encountered three Mexican teenagers trying to remove a window from his house. The boys fled and were nearly to the Mexico side when Bordelon allegedly started firing his rifle. Authorities say he hit a 16-year-old, Luis Armando Chavez Vaquera, who was found dead two weeks later down river, a bullet hole in the back of his head.
Bordelon’s attorney says his client was not even at the scene of the shooting. Now free on bail again, Bordelon could not be located for comment. His lawyer said he has gone “underground” in Texas until the trial.
Defense attorney Steve Rozan also said he would argue in court that Bordelon--though sane when he obtained his concealed gun license--was suffering from periodic mental breakdowns.
Val Verde Dist. Atty. Tom Lee, who will prosecute the cases, said it “scares me to death” to think of Bordelon carrying a concealed handgun, adding he expected the background check on people like him to be tougher.
In fact, state officials also have authority to suspend an existing license for medical or mental evaluation. However, Texas officials apparently were not aware of Bordelon’s psychiatric problems or his Veterans Affairs-approved disability.
“That’s all documented [by the VA]. . . . He’s under a 100% disability, most of which is emotional,” attorney Rozan said.
A court-appointed psychiatrist earlier this year noted in a report that Bordelon was severely impaired emotionally--but legally sane. According to court documents, Bordelon told the psychiatrist:
“I don’t like people around behind me. I like to be alone. I like places that are familiar. I have been very watchful. I have been that way all my life.”
He continued to have a concealed handgun license until the state revoked it early this year.
Bordelon’s lawyer shrugged off the issue, saying: “I wouldn’t want someone who is not mentally sound to have one. But the good state of Texas found that he qualified.”
Despite Problems, Texans Back Program
Despite the thousands of problem licensees--and new questions raised about the state screening process--support in Texas for the concealed handgun program seems to be widespread.
In May, proponents held a fifth-anniversary celebration, complete with a cake decorated as the flag of Texas and speakers including Eichelberg, the man who thwarted the carjacking.
Former State Sen. Patterson, who presided at the ceremonies, remains a strong advocate. In an interview with The Times, he also cited other cases of good people he said were saved by their concealed handguns. In Garland, Texas, for example, he said a woman shot and killed a man robbing her husband in their jewelry store. At another jewelry store in Pasadena, Texas, the owner stopped a robbery by exchanging gunfire with a thief.
“By being licensed,” Patterson said, “they had gotten the training they needed and they were better equipped to make the correct decisions on whether to use their guns.”
Even Texas state prison spokesman Larry Fitzgerald, whose facilities house some of the worst failures of the licensing system, said he has completed the licensing course and found it useful.
It is a good program, he said, “if you don’t have evil in your heart.”
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By the Numbers
Texas concealed handgun licensees:
Licenses active as of Sept. 1: 215,003
Licenses revoked: 1,134
Licenses suspended: 404
Applications denied: 3,071
* Does not include more than 1,000 license actions still pending.
Source: Texas Dept. of Public Safety.
Researched by NONA YATES /Los Angeles Times (BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Licensed to Carry
The procedure for obtaining a concealed handgun license in Texas is, on the face of it, more demanding than many other states. The Texas Department of Public Safety claims it conducts “extensive” background checks on all individuals that apply. Here is a look at part of the process:
Submit a detailed application for a concealed handgun license, with supporting documentation including:
Handgun proficiency certificate received after completing a state certified 10- to 15-hour course
Authorization for Release of Records
Medical records within 5 years pertaining to chemical dependence or ability to exercise sound judgement with respect to the proper use and storage of a handgun
Child support payment status
Law enforcement records
Current restrictions under court protective orders
Some of statements potential licensees must swear to:
I have not been convicted of a felony.
I am not a fugitive from justice.
I am not chemically dependent.
I am not incapable of exercising sound judgment with respect to the proper use and storage of a handgun.
I [am not] in default on a [student loan].
The four-page application asks the applicant to list any criminal history, including juvenile information or any history of drug, alcohol or psychiatric treatment.
Two sets, one for state authorities, one for federal authorities
Concealed Handgun License (Sample)
Once an applicant is approved, a process that takes about 60 days, he or she will receive a wallet-sized, plastic coated concealed handgun license.
Some things that disqualify an applicant:
Felony convictions and some types of misdemeanor convictions.
Pending criminal charges
Alcohol or drug dependency
Certain types of psychiatric disorders
Current protective or restraining orders
Defaults on taxes, student loans or child support
Source: Texas Dept. of Public Safety.
Researched by NONA YATES and LIANNE HART/Los Angeles Times.
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Forty-two states have some form of concealed gun license law. Of those, 14 states are “may issue” states, meaning the licensing authority, often a local government agency or official, has discretion in granting or denying concealed weapon permits. Twenty-eight states are considered “shall issue” states, where an applicant who meets the state’s eligibility requirements, such as no felony convictions, must be issued a concealed carry license. Only seven states, largely in the Midwest, prohibit carrying a concealed weapon. One state, Vermont, does not require a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Handgun Control Inc.; National Rifle Assn.; State agencies.
Researched by NONA YATES/Los Angeles Times
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From the Files
Gene A. Hanson (Deceased)
Hanson, who had been stalking and harassing his ex-girlfriend, according to police reports, staked out her home on Aug. 23, 1998. When she and her new boyfriend, Tim Twain Gooch, arrived, Hanson blocked their exit, got out of his car, shot Gooch and then turned the gun on himself. They both died at the scene.
Victim: Tim Twain Gooch (Deceased)
Daniel Paul Meehan, 34
On May 16, 1997, Meehan called police to his home saying his live-in girlfriend, Selma Pieruccini, had committed suicide. Meehan told authorities he had dreamed of forming a “Brady Bunch” family, combining sets of children from their previous marriages. When police arrived, however, it appeared as though she was packing to leave. The coroner ruled the death a homicide, saying she could not have physically shot herself in the back. A jury agreed, finding Meehan guilty after deliberating 25 minutes and sentenced him to 99 years in prison. His CHL was suspended.
Victim: Selma J. Pieruccini (Deceased)
Paul Wiley Lueders, 65
On Feb. 25, 1998, Lueders shot and seriously wounded Houston park-and-ride bus driver Ricky Mack after a heatedaargument over the city’s transit service. Lueders was convicted of aggravated assault, sentenced to 5 years probation and ordered to take anger management and gun safety courses. His CHL was revoked in January 1999.
Barbara Holland McMullen, 53
In the early morning hours of July 13, 1997, after a night of drinking, McMullen went home and shot her husband, Joseph Wynn McMullen, to death. They had argued the day before because he had not helped her mow the lawn, she said at her trial. The jury did not believe her claim of self-defense, found her guilty of first degree murder and sentenced her to 40 years in prison. Her concealed handgun license was suspended.
Victim: Joseph Wynn McMullen (Deceased)
Audi Phong Nguyen, 25
On the surface, Nguyen appeared to be an All-American kid, known to his friends as Bruce. But unbeknownst to them and apparently to Texas authorities, when Texas issued his concealed handgun license he was already involved in staging home invasion robberies, including one that resulted in the slaying of Roel Pena in 1995. Two years later he was identified in the murder of Samuel Ontiveros and linked to the Pena murder. He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and murder and was sentenced to 38 years in prison. His CHL was suspended.
Terry Ross Gist, 32
Nicknamed “Holsters,” Gist is an avid gun enthusiast with a violent temper whose record of spousal abuse could be found in court files from North Carolina to California. He is currently serving a 10-year state prison term for sexually assaulting an 8-year-old girl in 1998. He was still licensed as of Monday, according to state officials.
Sources: Court files and police records; Times research
Research assistance on this project was provided by Nona Yates in Los Angeles and Lianne Hart and Edith Stanley in Texas.