Criminal Justice

NRA general counsel was once convicted of second-degree murder; conviction was overturned

The general counsel of the National Rifle Association was previously convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in a 1963 slaying, but the conviction was overturned on appeal, according to a report by Mother Jones.

The lawyer, 68-year-old Robert Dowlut, was only 17 years old when his girlfriend’s mother in South Bend, Indiana, died from three gunshot wounds, the Mother Jones story says. According to police, Dowlut, who was home on leave from the Army, confessed and led police to a gun in the city cemetery which matched the bullets used in the killing.

The story of Dowlut’s long-ago conviction and reversal for improper police conduct has never been told publicly, Mother Jones says. It’s unclear if he told NRA officials, who didn’t respond to the publication’s request for comment. But longtime acquaintance David Hardy, a lawyer and pro-gun writer, told Mother Jones he had “no idea” about the conviction.

Dowlut was charged as an adult in the slaying of the woman, Anna Marie Yocum, and with assault and battery in a pawn shop shooting the same night that wounded the owner, the story says. The trial judge suppressed the confession in the woman’s death but allowed jurors to hear about the gun in the cemetery.

Dowlut allegedly said in the tossed confession that he tried to rob a pawnshop, accidentally shot the owner when he grabbed Dowlut’s gun, and then went to the home of his girlfriend’s mother and killed her. The mother had reportedly opposed the idea of Dowlut marrying her daughter. Dowlut had claimed he was denied access to a lawyer and was driven to falsely confess by intense interrogations and police threats to convict and execute his father.

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the conviction in this 1968 opinion, ruling that the gun in the cemetery should also have been suppressed because the finding stemmed from an illegal confession. The court said the police “flagrantly violated” Dowlut’s rights when they failed to tell him of his right to remain silent and to counsel.

With little admissible evidence, prosecutors did not retry Dowlut, the story says. The case over the pawnshop shooting was later dismissed for failure to provide a speedy trial.

Mother Jones describes Dowlut’s career in a quote also noted by Business Insider: “As the NRA’s top lawyer, he has been a key architect of the gun lobby’s campaign to define the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment. He helped oversee the NRA’s effort to strike down Chicago’s handgun ban in the 2010 Supreme Court case McDonald v. Chicago, and he is the longtime secretary of the organization’s Civil Rights Defense Fund, which has spent millions assisting gun owners in court and sponsoring gun rights researchers.”

He did not respond to the publication’s repeated requests for comment.

Hat tip to Above the Law and the Business Insider.

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