Sale of machine gun part nets Coraopolis man probation

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A Coraopolis man who served in the Navy and then the Department of Corrections before illness forced him to retire was sentenced to probation today because he sold a part that can turn an AR-15 rifle into an automatic weapon.

Martin Joseph Saunders, 49, sold the part, called an auto seer, in 2011. He pleaded guilty to possession of a machine gun, a conviction that federal guidelines suggest would merit a prison sentence of up to two years.

U.S. District Judge Maurice B. Cohill, though, noted Saunders' military service and record in the Pennsylvania prison system, plus his ill health, in justifying a sentence of three years of probation, including six months of home detention.

Saunders' attorney, Michael DeRiso, said he was honorably discharged from the military after service that included time stationed in Beirut. He then worked for 15 years for the Department of Corrections, rising to the rank of lieutenant, before multiple sclerosis forced him to retire in 2010.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee J. Karl said that prosecution was important because "if this type of weapon would fall into the wrong hands ... it poses an extremely serious danger" to the populace and law enforcement.

Judge Cohill also alluded to recent mass shootings, saying the timing for Saunders "couldn't be worse," but adding that imprisonment wasn't appropriate.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord


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