A Billings man who admitted illegally having six firearms after an investigation in which witnesses said he espoused conspiracy theories about the government will spend 30 months in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Susan Watters on Tuesday sentenced John Edward Terry, 39, to the term, which was shorter than the guideline range of 37 to 46 months.
Terry pleaded guilty in February to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Terry was banned from having firearms after being convicted of a felony drug charge in Michigan in 1999, the prosecution said. There was no plea agreement.
Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Terry in November after an investigation in which witnesses said he was illegally possessing guns, had participated in tactical training and shooting sessions at a local firearms business and had espoused conspiracy theories about the government.
Watters praised law enforcement agents for “their cool heads” in not shooting Terry when they tried to arrest him. Agents’ restraint despite Terry acting like he had a gun in his waistband should be commended, she told Terry.
The judge also noted that Terry took responsibility for his behavior and sent an apology letter to the arresting agent.
Law enforcement agents closed off a block of Howard Avenue on Nov. 29 to search his home, where they found six firearms of various models and calibers, three silencers and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
An ATF agent arrested Terry that day after he left his home and walked to a nearby convenience store. The agent attempted to contact Terry when he left the store, but Terry ran and led the agent on a chase through a residential neighborhood before getting caught.
When the agent confronted Terry at an intersection, Terry began reaching into the waistband of his pants and indicated he was reaching for gun, the prosecution said. Terry repeatedly asked the agent to shoot him because he didn’t want to go to prison. More agents arrived and took Terry into custody. Officers did not find a gun on Terry.
At sentencing, Terry apologized for his actions, especially for his behavior when agents tried to arrest him. “It was a moment of panic,” he said.
Terry also said he would not break the law again.
Defense attorney Ashley Harada recommended a two-year sentence, saying that while Terry did illegally possess firearms he was not “a home-grown terrorist” or stockpiling guns.
Harada said Terry practices Islam and has been exposed to Islamophobia. There is a preoccupation in the mainstream media to portray Muslims negatively, she said.
Terry possessed firearms and participated in training to get a better understanding of guns and firearms safety and not to harm anyone, Harada said. Terry also did not have a history of violence, she added.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sullivan recommended a mid-range sentence of about 40 months.
Sullivan said the pre-sentencing information provided two different pictures of Terry, one as someone who believed in conspiracy theories and was preparing for World War III and another as a person who was misguided and harmless.
Sullivan said he didn’t know which was true but asked the judge to consider what Terry did, which was illegally possess firearms, and the manner of his arrest. He also noted Terry’s acceptance of responsibility.