First Assistant U.S. Attorney Vipal Patel, center, speaks to the media after a plea agreement hearing in which Ethan Kollie, a Kettering man who had been a friend to Oregon District shooter Connor Betters, pleaded guilty Wednesday to firearms charges. MARSHALL GORBY/STAFF
Photo: WHIO
Photo: WHIO

Dayton mass shooter’s friend pleads guilty: ‘What we want is a just sentence’

Prosecutors, defense argue if man should be released until his February sentencing date.

Ethan Kollie, a friend of Dayton Oregon District mass killer Connor Betts, pleaded guilty to a pair of firearm charges Wednesday, and a federal judge set sentencing for Feb. 20 next year.

U.S District Judge Thomas Rose listened briefly to defense counsel and a prosecutor spar over whether Kollie should be released pending sentencing, saying he would rule “fairly quickly.”

“The court has a lot to think about,” Rose said, ending an hour-long plea agreement hearing.

Kollie was returned to jail Wednesday afternoon, where he has been detained for nearly 15 weeks.

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Vipal Patel, first assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Ohio, said federal sentencing guidelines call for a possible prison sentence of about 33 to 41 months for Kollie. He did not offer a specific sentence recommendation Wednesday.

“What we want is a just sentence, and it’s just too early to tell what we’ll be advocating for at this point,” he said.

Kollie pleaded guilty to being an unlawful user of firearms, with a history of using marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms, and lying about his drug use in completing a government form to buy a semi-automatic Romanian-made pistol in May 2019.

A Kettering Fairmont graduate and former Sinclair Community College student, Kollie is the only person to have been charged as a result of the investigation into the Aug. 4 mass killing along East Fifth Street, a shooting spree that left 10 people dead in less than a minute, including Betts, 24, of Bellbrook.

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Prosecutors have not implicated Kollie for planning or having any direct role in carrying out the Aug. 4 killings.

Defense counsel Nick Gounaris argued that it’s the custom of the court to release defendants in these situations prior to sentencing. Patel argued otherwise.

“The law that applies subsequent to a conviction, which a guilty plea is, is that the defendant shall remain in detention unless the defense is able to show convincing evidence of a lack of danger or a lack of flight,” Patel said.

In August, a federal magistrate chose to keep Kollie jailed, citing the defendant’s history of drug use and mental health issues.

“The government’s argument is that the drug use presents still a danger to the community,” Patel said Wednesday.

The charges to which Kollie, 24, pleaded do involve the weapon that Connor Betts used in the Oregon District shootings. 

Kollie was charged with, and pleaded guilty to, illegally possessing four firearms in total, one of which was the AR-15 that Betts subsequently used in the Oregon District shooting. 

 The prosecution's statement of facts indicates that Kollie illegally possessed Betts’ AR-15 on two separate occasions, in early May 2019 and then again on or about May 14, 2019.

A federal complaint alleges that Kollie bought the body armor, the double-barrel drum-style magazine and the upper receiver to the AR-style pistol that Betts used in the killings.

The Dayton Daily News has found that prosecutions for lying on the federal background check form before buying a firearm have been rare in recent cases.

A Butler County man is facing allegations that he lied when he purchased the firearm used to kill Dayton Police Detective Jorge Del Rio earlier this month.

Delano Wells, 50, of Trenton has been charged with making false statements on a federal firearms form, according to prosecutors.

“The message we want to make loud and clear is that if you provide firearms to drug dealers and convicted felons, you will be held responsible for their actions,” said U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers. “There are significant sentencing enhancements for firearms provided by straw purchasers used to commit crimes, and we will seek those enhancements to the fullest.”

A September 2018 Government Accountability Office report said that of more than 12,700 U.S. Justice Dept. Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) investigations into people thought to have lied on the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System in fiscal year 2017 — people whose gun purchases were denied for that reason — only 12 of those cases resulted in actual prosecutions.

Patel said his office has typically taken those charges seriously.

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