Felon accused in gun scheme denied pretrial release

U.S. Magistrate Clifton L. Corker on Thursday denied pretrial release for a convicted violent felon indicted for trading heroin for firearms purchased in Cocke, Hamblen and Sevier counties, and it didn’t appear to be a very close call, according to court documents.

Charles Koerner, 40, was once sentenced to 20 years in prison for kidnapping, robbery and escape. Two firearms he obtained in East Tennessee and sold to customers in New Jersey have been linked to attempted murders there, according to Corker’s detention order.

A federal grand jury indicted Koerner for arms trafficking and illegal possession of firearms, but he’s also facing cocaine charges in Cocke County Criminal Court. He was holding 10 bags of cocaine and $4,000 in cash when he was arrested in June 2017, according to the federal magistrate.

“Thus, it appears he is involved in both firearms sales and drug distribution during the same time period – a combination that poses a real danger to the community by any standard,” Corker’s order states.

A federal prosecutor further alleged that Koerner, who has a history of missing court dates, threatened to shoot one of his codefendants – either Newport resident Zachary Strom or Aaron Turner, both 27 – when he learned he was the target of a criminal investigation, according to Corker.

Koerner’s connection to New Jersey remains unclear. When he was arrested on the cocaine charge, he gave the Newport address of his girlfriend and codefendant, 38-year-old Kizzy Jackson. Koerner sought to postpone Thursday’s detention hearing because Jackson could not attend the hearing, and she was expected to vouch for him.

The most favorable testimony from Jackson would not have helped.

“Her credibility would not be an issue because the court could not have considered her as a third-party custody,” Corker’s order states.

Koerner represented that if he were allowed pretrial release to his girlfriend’s residence, he could secure employment at Taco Bell, according to the order.

In another federal prosecution that originated in Cocke County, Joshua Burgin, who earlier pleaded guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm in connection with a luckless hunting trip in November 2016, was sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Burgin, 37, was loaded for bear and the dog that was running in front of him had one treed when two wildlife officers, who were on routine patrol in rural Cocke County, paused to view the hunting drama playing out before their eyes, according to a factual basis of the crime.

When Burgin arrived in a pickup, he took a high-powered rifle from a large toolbox. A wildlife officer recognized Burgin and knew he was a convicted felon who could not legally possess firearms or ammunition, according to the court document.

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Some Tennessee GOP leaders back Trump’s gun control push

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Some Tennessee Senate leaders have come out in support of President Donald Trump’s push to ban bump stocks and bar those under 21 from buying semi-automatic rifles, and want additional discussion at the state level. But support from the state House’s Republican leadership has been more tepid.

On Thursday, Senate Speaker Randy McNally and Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron said they support those two gun limitations, which Trump has encouraged in the aftermath of a Florida school shooting this month that killed 17 people. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said he wants the issues discussed in the statehouse during the ongoing legislative session.

“I think the president is headed in the right direction,” McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, told reporters Thursday.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam likewise believes that both proposals should be considered, said his spokeswoman, Kate Derrick.

Trump’s gun proposals have drawn mixed reviews. The National Rifle Association, an influential force with state and federal elected officials, opposes raising the age limit for buying semi-automatic rifles.

After the Las Vegas concert shooting that killed 58 people last year, the NRA called for reviewing and further regulating bump stocks, which the shooter used to make semi-automatic rifles mimic machine guns. But the group stopped short of calling for a ban on their sale.

In the Tennessee House, Speaker Beth Harwell said Trump’s support of a bump stock ban makes it more high profile and gives it more credibility, but she said she needs to study the issue further. She didn’t take a stance on raising the age for semi-automatic rifles.

House Majority Leader Glen Casada and Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams likewise didn’t take a hard position on the two issues.

“We appreciate President Trump’s efforts at the federal level on this important issue and are open to hearing more about his ideas and having meaningful discussions here in Tennessee,” the two Republicans said in a statement. “We are committed to upholding current laws that help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who suffer from mental illness. At the same time, we must do all we can in order to protect the Second Amendment rights of our law-abiding citizens.”

In line with Trump’s idea to arm more teachers, Tennessee Senate Republican leaders expressed interest in making it less burdensome for teachers to carry guns under existing state law. A 2013 law lets school districts choose if they want to let teachers with handgun carry permits to bring guns into schools. But they must be trained by the state Peace Officer Standards Training Commission, or POST, which trains police officers.

Ketron said lawmakers could consider legislation to let a third-party group perform the training, since POST training can be prohibitively expensive.

“You can probably count on two hands the ones that are POST-certified as teachers,” the Murfreesboro senator said.

Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee aren’t in favor of arming more teachers in schools, saying it assumes more shootings are inevitable and burdens teachers with an unwanted, grave responsibility. But Democrats who have long called for gun control action see some middle ground with Republicans.

Rep. Dwayne Thompson, a Cordova Democrat, has legislation to ban bump stocks. He said he’s willing to amend it to instead require them to be registered; limit use to only within licensed shooting ranges; and bar people who have been convicted of a violent crime from buying them.

“We’re looking for any areas where we can get compromise and get something passed that is actually going to make a difference for kids,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville.

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