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Gun seller charged after deaths

A pawn shop owner is charged with illegally selling a gun to a man who used it to kill his ex-girlfriend and himself.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 3, 2001


INVERNESS -- The customer was familiar. He had visited Al Manchester's pawn shop many times, sometimes to buy and sometimes to sell.

On Feb. 19, the man was looking to buy. He wanted a shotgun -- right away.

"I told him, sorry, three-day waiting period on all gun sales in this county," Manchester recalled saying.

The customer, Troy Truax, didn't stop there. He drove across county to A-OK Pawn & Gold in Crystal River, where he had better luck: The store owner skipped the waiting period and sold Truax a shotgun, authorities have alleged.

That same afternoon, Truax went back to Inverness.

Authorities say he used the newly purchased gun to fatally shoot his former girlfriend and then kill himself.

Prosecutors have charged the Crystal River store owner with unlawfully selling a firearm, a second-degree misdemeanor. Marlene Sabados Williams could face up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail if found guilty as charged.

Williams, 59, is scheduled for arraignment Thursday in Citrus County Court. Williams refused comment Monday, although she told the Inverness store owner she intends to fight the charge.

Williams stands accused of violating a Citrus County ordinance that requires gun sellers to wait three working days before they deliver any firearm to a buyer.

That provision is stronger than the one found in state law, which requires a 72-hour wait only for handgun purchases, prosecutors said.

The ordinance and state law both require gun sellers to complete background checks on customers.

The County Commission passed the ordinance in April 1999, just a few months after Florida voters amended the state Constitution to allow counties to beef up their individual gun-safety measures.

Truax was a regular at Manchester's Pawn & Gun , a small shop at U.S. 41 S and Eden Drive. In fact, he had bought two guns there in the past.

Store records showed Truax visited about 1:07 p.m. Feb. 19. He pointed to a shotgun displayed on the wall.

"He appeared as he always did . . . normal," Manchester recalled.

Truax, 28, had a state permit that allows him to carry a concealed firearm. The county ordinance allows people who hold such permits to skip the three-day waiting period.

Truax's permit had expired, Manchester said, so the three-day wait period was in effect.

If the permit had not been expired? "I could have sold him the gun and I would have," Manchester said.

Truax left the store. What happened next remains unclear.

But authorities know two things: Truax bought the shotgun at A-OK and, by 4 p.m. or so, was at his home west of Inverness. Also there was Meghan Durling, his former girlfriend and the mother of their 1-year-old daughter.

Durling, 20, was moving on with her life. She was living with her parents and was set to move into her own apartment and begin classes at Central Florida Community College. Her parents had adopted the young girl, named Molly.

Truax, who had been accused of striking Durling in the past, met Durling at 1400 S Alto Verde Drive. Authorities said Truax shot Durling and then killed himself.

Michele L. Slingerland, the prosecutor handling this case, said authorities believe Truax shot Durling and himself with the gun he purchased in Crystal River. She also said the purchase was made that same day, most likely after his 1:07 p.m. visit to the Inverness store.

Manchester lobbied against the county ordinance in 1999. He told commissioners the background checks were sufficient protection and argued that the three-day wait period would inconvenience gun sellers and lawful users while having little effect on curbing crime.

Commissioners approved the measure, 3-2. But not all gun sellers heard -- or heeded -- the new rules, Manchester said.

Manchester said some stores weren't requiring buyers to wait three days. That put him at a competitive disadvantage so, in fall 2000, he asked Sheriff Jeff Dawsy to help spread the word about the new requirements.

Dawsy, though not legally obligated to do so, agreed to help educate gun sellers. He sent Manchester a letter in January.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Ronda Hemminger Evan said staff was set to begin the notification task. But they first asked the State Attorney's Office and County Attorney's Office to review the ordinance and make certain it didn't conflict with state law.

That review was under way on Feb. 19, the day authorities say Truax killed his former girlfriend and himself.

Manchester was away hunting that day and did not hear about the shooting. A few days later, Durling's father came to Manchester's shop to buy back some jewelry his daughter had pawned.

The man said his daughter's former boyfriend was responsible for what authorities have called a murder-suicide. He told Manchester when it happened -- and who the boyfriend was.

The store owner paused to consider the dates.

"Then," he said, "it all clicked."

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