DOJ files charges against 2 Utahns connected to firearm used in murder of U of U student Lauren McCluskey

Salt Lake City police officers are shown searching for murder suspect Melvin Rowland (inset) on the University of Utah campus late Monday night, Oct. 22, 2018. Photo: Gephardt Daily/Patrick Benedict

UTAH, March 13, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — The Department of Justice has filed charges against two Utahns connected to the gun used to kill University of Utah student athlete Lauren McCluskey.

Police say McCluskey’s shooter was Melvin Shawn Rowland, 37, who died hours later of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Rowland obtained the gun five days earlier from acquaintance Nathan Daniel Vogel, 21, of Millcreek. And the federal indictment says Vogel obtained the gun illegally, according to charges, by arranging for another person, Sarah Emily Lady, 24, of Mapleton, purchase it for him, lying on the application.

“The indictment alleges Lady falsely answered ‘yes’ to a question asking whether she was the actual buyer of the firearm, knowing that Vogel was the intended actual purchaser of the firearm,” says a statement released by the Department of Justice.

“A straw purchase happens when someone lies on an ATF form to purchase a firearm for an individual who is prohibited from owning a gun or an individual who does not want to wait for the completion of a background check.  Lying on federal forms to purchase a firearm for someone is illegal.”

Berretta PX4 Storm 40. File image

U.S. Attorney John H. Huber said in a prepared statement that although Lady and Vogel did not shoot McCluskey, they played roles in illegally obtaining the Beretta PX4 Storm .40-caliber handgun used by Rowland.

“Lauren McCluskey’s death was tragic and heartbreaking,” Huber said in a prepared statement. “We join so many others in offering our condolences to her family and friends.

“While we cannot change what happened that October night in Salt Lake City, we can say that without the conduct alleged in this indictment, this particular handgun would not have been used to take Lauren’s life.”

John H. Huber, U.S. Attorney, District of Utah. File photo: Wikimedia Commons/Department of Justice

“The laws of the United States offer safety and predictability when we abide by them,” Huber said. “Straw purchases are prohibited under federal law for a reason. When a firearm is unlawfully acquired or transferred, the firearm ends up in the wrong hands and violence brings tragedy to our community.”

The charges allege Lady and Vogel conspired to defraud the United States by impeding and obstructing the functions of the ATF in enforcing federal firearms laws and preventing illegal firearms trafficking through the straw purchase of a firearm, the DOJ statement says.

The indictment alleges Lady and Vogel made false statements on the ATF form to circumvent Vogel’s background check and waiting period, because Vogel wanted the firearm immediately. Vogel was ‘generally discharged’ from the Army and was fearful that he could not purchase a firearm without a delay, the indictment alleges.

“Between Aug. 30, 2018, and Sept. 8, 2018, Lady and Vogel made plans to meet at a firearms store in Salt Lake City so Vogel could identify the firearm he wished to own and Lady could purchase it for him,” the DOJ statement says.

“The indictment alleges Lady and Vogel text messaged 13 times to arrange the meeting. When they got to the store on Sept. 8, 2018, Lady and Vogel looked at several firearms and Vogel asked questions of the sales person. Vogel pointed out the Beretta handgun, asked the sales person questions about the firearm, and handled it. He gave the Beretta back and moved to the ammunition area of the business to obtain ammunition for the firearm.

“Shortly after, Lady began the purchase of the Beretta, answering yes to the question asking if she is the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm.  The firearms licensee conducted a background check on Lady that took about 10 minutes and allowed her to purchase the firearm and ammunition. Immediately after the purchase, Lady handed the firearm to Vogel.”

Melvin Shawn Rowland. Photo: Salt Lake County

Vogel had the handgun in his possession from Sept. 8 to Oct. 17 of last year, when he loaned it to Rowland.

On Oct. 22, police say Rowland used the gun to fatally shoot McCluskey, 21, who had broken up with him after a brief relationship.

Lady was arrested Tuesday in Utah and had an initial appearance Wednesday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells, the DOJ statement says. She entered a plea of not guilty to the charges in the indictment. A three-day jury trial was set for May 20, 2019.

Lady was released on conditions of supervised release — including no contact with the co-defendant in the case and a prohibition on possession of firearms or weapons.

At most recent report, an arrest warrant is pending for Vogel.

The maximum potential penalty for a false statement during the acquisition of a firearm is 10 years in federal prison.  The conspiracy could has a potential five-year sentence.

Lauren McCluskey. Photo: University of Utah/Steve C. Wilson

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