Machine-gun sting nets conviction for Sequim man

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — A Sequim man arrested in a 2010 sting operation was convicted by a Clallam County Superior Court jury Wednesday of bail jumping and unlawful possession of a “dangerous” machine gun that had been created from a semiautomatic rifle.

Jesse L. Spencer, 46, will be sentenced at 9 a.m.
Jan. 10.

County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Troberg will recommend eight months of jail time for Spencer, who is disabled and lives on a disability allowance, Troberg said Wednesday.

Lawyer Ralph Anderson of Port Angeles, representing Spencer, will recommend no jail time.

He plans to appeal Spencer's conviction.

Spencer has no criminal record, Anderson said Wednesday.

Anderson said Spencer's girlfriend purchased the weapon as a gift for Spencer, who holds a gun-carry permit, at a Port Angeles pawn shop without knowing it had been modified.

Once Spencer realized the weapon fired a machine-gun burst, he tried selling the weapon back to the pawn shop, which refused the return, Anderson said.

Troberg said the weapon was a Panther Arms AR15 5.56 mm rifle, a civilian version of the military M16 5.56 mm rifle.

“The appearance and condition of the trigger sear surface and disconnector mechanism suggests the alteration of the mechanism was intentional for the purpose of manufacturing a machine gun, as the alteration would require disassembly of the mechanism to perform the alterations,” according to the certificate of probable cause.

The modifications were done “by grinding, filing and polishing,” the statement said.

The modifications “were done in such a way that it would malfunction, and the malfunctions themselves are really quite dangerous because the gun could blow up,” Troberg said.

The conversion created a risk of jamming while firing.

“We can't prove who altered it,” Troberg said.

When Spencer tried to sell it to a person identified by Troberg as an adult male from the Sequim area, the man notified authorities.

They listened to Spencer's phone conversation with the potential buyer while Spencer made arrangements to meet the man, Troberg said.

Spencer warned the man that he should not fire it around people “because people will go to the cops when they find it's a fully automatic rifle,” Troberg said.

Spencer said he would sell it to the man for $2,500 and set up a meeting place for May 19, 2010, at a gas station at the corner of Taylor Cutoff Road and U.S. Highway 101, Troberg said.

“The cops were there, waiting for Spencer,” he said.

Possession of a machine gun is broadly illegal under state law for anyone except police, military personnel and people who repair such weapons for police or the military.

The maximum penalty is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Troberg said machine guns are legal under federal law if the owner obtains a federal firearms license.

A fully automatic weapon is defined as one that fires more than one round for each pull of the trigger, has a detachable magazine or ammunition clip and fires more than five rounds a second, Troberg said.

Superior Court Judge George L. Wood presided over the trial.

It was the second time Spencer had been tried on the weapons charge.

A mistrial was declared at Spencer's first trial in June, Anderson said.

A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent had testified — in violation of a court ruling — that Spencer, also known as “Biker Jesse,” was suspected of being a motorcycle-gang member.



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 05. 2012 6:00PM
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