Claysville man gets 9 months in federal prison for making guns automatic weapons

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A Claysville man who tinkered with two pistols in an effort to turn them into automatic weapons, while an FBI informant surreptitiously recorded him, was sentenced Thursday to nine months in prison.

Charles Merle Watson Jr., 53, pleaded guilty in January to unlawful possession and transfer of a machine gun. With mixed success, he converted an Intratec Tec-9 pistol and a Cobray M11 9mm pistol into weapons that could fire short bursts.

Watson had worked for Cabela’s in Wheeling, W.Va., as a firearms librarian.

Introduced by friend Timothy D. Johnson to a person who was working as a confidential informant for the FBI, Watson bragged about his ability to turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatics. He demonstrated his skills while being filmed by the informant, and later sold the Cobray to the informant.

Watson’s attorney, Robert E. Stewart, said that tests showed it did not actually work as an automatic by the time the FBI got it to a lab.

“They weren’t trading Uzis,” Mr. Stewart told U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon. “This is a guy that fools around in his backyard and is a rural and unsophisticated person.”

“It seemed like harmless fun,” Watson said. “I realize now people could’ve been hurt.”

Judge Bissoon said that Watson wasn’t “some kind of hardened criminal,” but rather “a gun enthusiast who, unfortunately, allowed his enthusiasm to cloud his judgment.”

Federal sentencing guidelines suggested a prison term of at least a year and a half, but the judge cut that in half.

Johnson, 43, of East Washington, is serving a sentence of five years in prison for selling silencers and possession of a machine gun.

Rich Lord:, 412-263-1542 or on Twitter @richelord. First Published September 4, 2014 12:11 PM


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