An Indiana jewelry dealer arrested after trying to check his gun at the Empire State Building took a plea deal Tuesday that will spare him jail time in a case that got attention from gun-rights advocates, veterans and a former governor.
Ryan Jerome, who said he had tried to act responsibly but misinterpreted New York's stringent gun laws, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapon-possession charge. The former Marine from South Bend, Ind., will have to complete 10 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine.
"I'm happy with the outcome," said Jerome, 28, who had faced a mandatory 3 1/2 years or more in prison had he been convicted of the original felony charge against him. "I definitely did not know it was illegal to bring a handgun to New York City."
Jerome took his first trip to New York in September to sell gold to a refinery that would melt it down on suburban Long Island. He has an Indiana license for his .45-caliber pistol, which he says he carries for protection because he transports valuables.
In New York, it's generally illegal to have a loaded gun outside one's home or business, whether the weapon is licensed in another state or not.
Jerome said he researched New York's gun laws online before traveling and mistakenly thought it was all right to bring his gun. But before going to a sightseeing attraction in the landmark skyscraper, he figured it would be wise to leave the weapon with security guards. He ended up under arrest.
Jerome was one in a series of out-of-town visitors arrested after, they said, they misunderstood New York gun laws or simply forgot they had firearms with them.
His plea came a day after Knoxville, Tenn., nurse Meredith Graves pleaded guilty to the same charge; her deal doesn't include community service or a fine.
Graves tried to check her pistol with security officials on a visit to the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum in December. Her lawyer said her bringing the gun to New York was "inadvertent."
Jerome's case spurred complaints from critics of New York's gun laws, a letter-writing campaign by Marines and sympathetic comments from former Gov. David Paterson, who told a radio show last month that Jerome "shouldn't be prosecuted."
But prosecutors noted that Jerome had brought a loaded gun to a crowded public place, and that ignorance of the law generally isn't a defense. The website Jerome consulted had a notice saying visitors were responsible for validating the information, prosecutors added.
"This case does not establish the type of rare and unusual circumstances that cry out for dismissal," but it was appropriate for a misdemeanor plea, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joseph A. Davis wrote in a letter last month.
In pressing prosecutors to drop the charges, Jerome's lawyer, Mark A. Bederow, underscored his client's military service, which also inspired other Marines to write letters to various city officials. Prosecutors pushed back by disclosing last month that Jerome was a Marine for less than 11 months, was tagged with unauthorized absences and other problems and got an "other than honorable" discharge.
Bederow on Tuesday called prosecutors' account "a half-story" and "very misleading," but he and Jerome declined to elaborate.
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