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East Neighborhoods
Former Edgewood officer loses appeal, faces prison term

Saturday, June 28, 2003

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Gary Small is out of options and headed to federal prison.

This week Small, a former Edgewood police officer once charged in a plot to strap a bomb to Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr., lost an appeal of his 2000 indictment on charges of illegal gun possession.

Small, 57, of Export, admitted to possession of a gun by a convicted felon, a charge based on his 1994 conviction in Japan for smuggling guns into that country inside a water heater.

But he was allowed to remain free on bond pending an appeal in which he argued that the indictment shouldn't count because it was based on a foreign conviction where the rules of due process were less stringent.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had never heard a similar case, has ruled against him, saying the Japanese conviction was valid because it "comported with our concepts of fundamental fairness."

The circuit decision affirms an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Cindrich.

Illegal gun cases in federal court are routine, but the Gary Small case is anything but.

A former Marine, he has never been convicted of a crime in the United States despite charges, accusations and suspicions.

The charge involving the plot to demand ransom for Rooney was dismissed on a clerical error.

Former homicide detectives have long suspected Small of killing people in the 1970s with his boyhood friend Richard Henkel, a contract killer.

But in 1992, police in Okinawa caught Small trying to pick up a package at Naha Airport that contained an electric water heater he had shipped to himself from Pittsburgh.

Inside, Japanese police found rifles, pistols, ammunition and gunpowder and suspected he was smuggling the weapons to the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia.

He was charged with violating Japan's strict gun laws and convicted April 12, 1994.

In 1998, he bought a 9 mm pistol illegally at a shop in Delmont by lying about his criminal past. He was also charged with possession of another gun and ammunition that agents found during a raid of his house in 1999.

The federal statute under which Small was charged says anyone "who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year" can't have a gun or ammunition.

Small's longtime lawyer, Paul Boas, argued that the law should not include foreign courts where American-style due process rights don't apply.

He also said the Japanese conviction wasn't fair because there was no jury, no chance for bail, his lawyer couldn't speak English and a judge left in the middle of the trial and never came back.

The U.S. attorney's office countered that the Japanese legal system was based on the U.S. Constitution after World War II and guarantees basic human rights.

Cindrich ruled that the Japanese trial was fair, and the circuit judges agreed.

Small will now have to serve eight months in prison and two months of home detention.

Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.

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