Was Vail murder suspect allowed to have guns?
VAIL, Colorado – Police say they don’t yet know if Vail murder suspect Richard “Rossi” Moreau was legally allowed to possess guns.
Records show Moreau, 63, has faced several criminal charges that involve weapons over the years, including prohibited use of a weapon, carrying a concealed weapon and illegal discharge of a firearm. In addition, he has claimed that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. Criminal convictions or mental illness can make it unlawful for a person to possess weapons, officials say.
Police say Moreau used a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun to shoot four people Saturday night at the Sandbar in West Vail. One man, Carbondale physician Gary Bruce Kitching, died.
More guns were found in a search of Moreau’s Vail home, Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said.
“We don’t know if he was legally in possession of those at this time,” Henninger said.
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Police don’t know where Moreau obtained the weapons, Henninger said. In Colorado, handguns do not have to be registered.
“We have fairly liberal gun laws that allow people to own guns in the state,” Henninger said. “The West has looser (gun) laws than the East.”
It is illegal in Colorado for anyone who has been convicted of a felony to possess a handgun, according to the National Rifle Association.
While Moreau pleaded guilty to felony illegal discharge of a firearm in 2001, he was given a four-year deferred sentence on the charge, court records show. Moreau was ordered to not possess weapons for the four-year probation, and, after the probation was terminated, he petitioned the court for the return of two guns, records show.
If a defendant successfully completes the terms of the deferred sentence, it is not considered a conviction, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said.
Moreau pleaded guilty to prohibited use of a weapon, a misdemeanor, in 1998, court records show.
Mental illness is also a factor in the legality of possession of a firearm, said Kim Andree, spokeswoman for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
“There are some guidelines that say you shouldn’t be in a possession of firearms if you have a certain mental illness,” Andree said, citing both state and federal laws.
However, criminal background checks that are conducted at the time of gun purchases would generally not include information on mental illness, she said. Prospective gun owners are required to undergo a background check through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s InstaCheck program, which takes about 35 minutes.
It is illegal in the town of Vail to possess a weapon, concealed or not, in an establishment where alcohol is sold. Furthermore, it is illegal to possess a gun while intoxicated, per town laws.
Henninger said Moreau was being served hard liquor at the Sandbar, but police don’t know if he was intoxicated. Officers saw Moreau sitting at the bar at the Sandbar one hour before the shooting, Henninger said.
Moreau does not hold a concealed weapon permit with Eagle County, Andree said. There is no record of such a permit for Moreau elsewhere in the state, either, Henninger said. The weapon was apparently concealed up until the time of the shooting, witnesses told police.
When officers entered the Sandbar after the shooting Saturday night, they found Moreau hiding on the floor under some tables, still holding the handgun. He would not drop it, and officers had to forcibly take it from him, Henninger said.
Henninger said the first two victims of the shooting were a 29-year-old employee and a 25-year-old patron who were shot near the door just after Moreau was escorted out of the bar for being unruly. Moreau re-entered the bar, police say, and the other two victims, Kitching and an unnamed 63-year-old patron, were then both shot multiple times, police say. The 63-year-old was described Monday as being in critical but stable condition in a Denver hospital.
One of the shooting victims who survived is a Vail Valley Medical Center employee, hospital spokesman Jens Werner confirmed. He said he could not identify the victim, citing patient privacy laws.
Moreau fired between 10 and 13 shots, Henninger said. The investigation continues, and police are still interviewing witness to the shooting, he said.
First-degree murder charges are expected against Moreau, Hurlbert said. Possible sentences for that offense are death or life without the possibility of parole, Hurlbert said.
In the last first-degree murder case in Eagle County, Charles Gross was found guilty in 2007 and sentenced to life without parole plus 100 years. Hurlbert chose not to seek the death penalty. A jury found Gross guilty of shooting Maria Madrid of Gypsum in 2005 at a campside near Dotsero.
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.