Claysville man sentenced for firearms violations

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A Claysville man was sentenced Thursday in federal court to nine months in prison and one year of supervised release for possessing and selling two pistols he converted into automatic weapons.


Charles Merle Watson, 53, of Julian Road, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon after Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Picking described him as a lonely guy with a history of physical problems, a spokeswoman said. He pleaded guilty to the charges in January.


Watson was befriended by Timothy Johnson of Washington. Johnson had a role with a government informant, who witnessed what happened at Watson’s home Feb. 11 and June 15, 2011, when Watson converted two semiautomatic pistols into automatic weapons. Watson was filmed by hidden camera converting the weapons.


Watson’s attorney claimed in presentencing documents that Watson viewed the converting as “an experiment, a challenge of his own knowledge and skills,” that was not done to inflict harm or encourage violence.


According to presentencing documents, Watson worked as a firearms librarian at Cabela’s in West Virginia, traveling to estate sales to purchase guns and refurbishing them. The documents also said he sold several guns to Johnson “off the books.”


Johnson is serving a five-year sentence after pleading guilty to 11 firearms violations, including possession and transfer of silencers and a machine gun and transfer of a firearm to a felon. Johnson had ties to former East Washington police chief Donald Solomon, who is serving an 11-year sentence for three counts of extortion.


Johnson also admitted that was involved in an April 2011 drive-by shooting of a car belonging to the boyfriend of Solomon’s former girlfriend.


The presentencing documents indicate Watson accepts responsibility for his actions and understands how they could have hurt others. In letters to the court, family members called him kind and caring, but said he was someone of whom others could take advantage.


Prior to imposing sentence, Bissoon stated that Watson knew his conduct was unlawful because of his employment at a sporting goods store and that he knew he was conducting an “unlawful side business.” The judge said Watson let his enthusiasm cloud his judgment.


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