The 41-year-old man accused of shooting to death two Eastern Shore police officers obtained the alleged murder weapon in a trade more than two decades ago, officials said yesterday.
Francis M. Zito of Centreville obtained the 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun from a Pennsylvania man in 1976, authorities said. He is accused of using the shotgun to kill two officers Feb. 13.
In exchange for the Mossberg shotgun, Zito traded the Pennsylvania man, Robert P. Liberato, another type of shotgun, said Cpl. Dale Patrick of the Queen Anne's County sheriff's office.
Patrick said investigators found a receipt that described the trade in Zito's trailer. Liberato, of Marcus Hook, Pa., declined to comment yesterday.
Patrick said he was not sure how Liberato obtained the weapon. He said federal agents traced the original purchase of the gun to a different man in 1974. Maryland State Police also questioned several people about the trade, Patrick said.
State police spokesman Cpl. Robert A. Moroney declined to discuss the case yesterday, saying Queen Anne's deputies are handling the investigation.
In the days after the shooting, Zito's father, Pasquale Zito of Claymont, Del., said his son obtained the shotgun from his maternal grandfather.
Yesterday, Pasquale Zito, 78, said he might have been confused about other weapons his son wanted or possessed.
Under federal law, Zito was prohibited from possessing the Mossberg shotgun at the time of the killings, though the 1976 trade was legal, authorities said.
Federal law forbids people convicted of certain crimes from owning "long guns," including shotguns. Zito was found guilty last year of second-degree assault, a conviction that prohibited him from having the weapon.
Zito is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Centreville Police Officer Michael S. Nickerson, 25, and Queen Anne's Sheriff's Deputy Jason C. Schwenz, 28.