2 trials ordered in man's gun case

Endangerment charges stem from discovery of weapons in house

Mount Airy

March 02, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County man who was arrested after a police search yielded more than 100 weapons and gun accessories at his home - including some near a sleeping child - won a ruling yesterday that could help his defense against reckless endangerment charges.

A judge hearing the case of gun dealer Amir H. Tabassi ruled that police could not assume Tabassi's children were in the same danger as a 12-year- old female family friend found sleeping next to two loaded, unregistered machine guns Aug. 5. So the judge ordered that Tabassi have two separate trials on the charges.

Tabassi, 55, asked for a separate trial on two Aug. 4 charges of reckless endangerment related to his children because police did not execute a search warrant until the next day.

During that search, state police discovered the girl sleeping in a bedroom where they seized 13 semiautomatic weapons. That search also yielded more than 100 weapons and gun accessories strewn throughout the home at the 5000 block of Ridge Road in Mount Airy.

They charged Tabassi with 13 counts of access to firearms by minors and one count of reckless endangerment. He also was charged with wearing and transporting a handgun without a permit.

State police later confirmed that Tabassi had custody of his young son and daughter the day before the search warrant was executed. They charged him with an additional two counts of reckless endangerment.

In Carroll County Circuit Court yesterday morning, defense attorney Bryon C. Black said that the Aug. 4 reckless endangerment case against his client would be unfairly tainted by the evidence the police would testify to seizing the next day. Visiting Judge Vincent J. Femia used that point to parry with assistant attorneys general Paul Budlow and David Goldberg.

Although judges are trained to differentiate between events that happen so close together, a jury would look at it in an entirely different way, Femia said.

He said he didn't think he could instruct a jury "to delineate that one day doesn't flip into another. It's very unnatural." Femia said that it would be like having a trial for two armed robberies that happened at the same 7-Eleven over two days in a row.

"Would that evidence be admissible?" Femia said. "You might have two different guys and maybe the same witnesses."

State police confirmed that Tabassi's basement is licensed as a gun dealership and that he has held a firearms dealer's license since 1993. But they also said that machine guns found at his split-level home were unregistered and unsecured. State police were following a tip that Tabassi possessed such weapons at his home.

Goldberg said the charges should be tried as one case because police had no reason to believe that what they found in the house Aug. 5 would be different from what they saw a day earlier.

"The condition of the house was in such disarray, with weapons everywhere," Goldberg said. "Submachine guns were mixed with toy machine guns," Goldberg said. "It wasn't as if on the first day that the house was beautiful, and the guns locked up."

His argument was not enough to sway Femia. "I do not believe that judicial economy outweighs the obvious prejudice from there being two entirely separate events on the 4th and 5th," the judge said.

Tabassi also filed a motion for the return of all but 18 of his weapons - the machine guns listed in the search warrant.

Although Cpl. Frank Lopez testified that Tabassi left loaded and unloaded weapons strewn throughout his home, Femia said some weapons fall outside the scope of the search warrant, which was restricted to machine guns.

Defense attorney Eric W. Schaffer said that as long as the guns were unloaded, it was not a crime to have them near the children, especially since Tabassi was a licensed gun dealer. According to court documents, several of the weapons were loaded. Tabassi, who was released on $25,000 bail, has said the charges are a result of racial discrimination. Tabassi, a U.S. citizen, was born in Iran.

Tabassi was in the news in 2001 after leading police to a murder conspiracy involving Scott Caruthers and other members of Beta Dominion Xenophilia, a Carroll County group that reputedly believed Caruthers to be a space alien and messiah.

Femia is expected to rule today on returning the guns to Tabassi and to schedule his trials.

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