A federal judge in Indianapolis has given probation to a straw purchaser tracked down by law enforcement because he bought one of the guns used in the brutal 2021 murder of 7-year-old Jaslyn Adams in a Chicago McDonald’s drive-thru lane.
Straw purchasers use their relatively clean criminal records to purchase firearms for people who can’t legally buy them.
Eric Keys Jr., 25, admitted to federal agents that he’d purchased a Glock .40-caliber pistol that was used to kill Jaslyn on April 18, 2021.
He said he bought it for himself but sold it to someone he identified as “D.” Keys also said “D” gave him $750 to buy a Taurus 9mm pistol.
Keys pleaded guilty this month to making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm and to making a false statement regarding information required to be kept by licensed firearm dealers. Both charges involved the purchase of the Taurus, not the Glock.
Still, U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson told Keys during his July 7 sentencing hearing that “a child is dead” because of his actions. She told him that “Chicago is reeling from all of the gun violence” and that “so many of the guns come from Indianapolis or Indiana and are sold to people up in Chicago because guns are too easy to get” in Indianapolis.
But Magnus-Stinson concluded that sending Keys to prison “would be counterproductive to the progress he is making in his life,” according to a transcript of the hearing.
Keys said he sold a gun to help his family through financial struggles. He also told the judge he’d found work driving trucks and planned to start a clothing line.
Federal guidelines called for a prison sentence of up to 16 months for Keys, according to the transcript.
Magnus-Stinson gave him two years of probation.
Jaslyn’s father said he prays that Keys learns from what happened and understands “what this situation has done to our family.”
Straw-purchasing cases can be vexing for law enforcement. Though they might have disastrous consequences, judges often find themselves having to decide the sentences of people with mostly clean criminal histories. Defense attorneys argue their clients have committed a non-violent, paperwork offense that involved lying on a form during a firearm purchase.
Denise Turner, the lawyer who represented Keys, said such defendants tend to be “easily taken advantage of” and often have intellectual disabilities.
“That’s exactly what happened in Eric’s case,” Turner said.
According to prosecutors, though, straw purchasers often put guns in the hands of criminals.
The issue recently surfaced in Chicago during the sentencing of Jamel Danzy, the straw purchaser of the gun used to kill Chicago police Officer Ella French. U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman declined to give Danzy the maximum five-year sentence sought by prosecutors, saying “anger and grief basically lead to vengeance.”
Gettleman instead sentenced Danzy to two and a half years in prison — still nearly twice what had been recommended under federal guidelines.
French’s partner and top police brass blasted the decision.
Straw purchasing was also central to an initiative promoted by Attorney General Merrick Garland during a visit to Chicago in July 2021. A key goal of Garland’s plan had been to link law enforcement in cities like Chicago, where the violence often occurs, with counterparts in regions where criminals first put their hands on the guns.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Indianapolis announced straw-purchasing cases against Keys and several others two months later, citing the launch of Garland’s initiative.
Last year, President Joe Biden signed a law that more explicitly prohibits straw purchases. It also carries prison sentences of up to 25 years if there’s reason to believe the gun would be used in a felony, federal crime of terrorism or drug trafficking.
Dru Stevenson, a South Texas College of Law professor, said straw-purchasing laws historically have been under-enforced. But Stevenson said a key distinction in such cases is whether a straw purchaser knew how the gun would be used.
He said “a police officer who’s killed, a judge getting killed or a kid getting killed is a big deal.”
Jaslyn was killed April 18, 2021, when two gunmen got out of an Audi and fired dozens of rounds into an Infiniti sedan being driven by her father in the drive-thru lane of a McDonald’s in the 3200 block of West Roosevelt Road, records show. One gunman brandished a Draco AK-47 pistol. The other carried the Glock.
Three men — Devontay Anderson, Demond Goudy and Marion Lewis — have been charged in Cook County in connection with Jaslyn’s murder.
Jaslyn’s father, Jontae Adams, was wounded in the shooting. He previously told the WBEZ podcast “Motive” that he heard his daughter calling out “Daddy” when the shooting started.
Officials determined that the Glock used in the killing had been purchased by Keys from Shoot Point Blank in Indianapolis 48 days before the shooting, around March 1, 2021, records show.
Agents from the Chicago field division of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives then interviewed Keys at his apartment in Indianapolis on June 22, 2021.
Keys initially told investigators nine firearms had been stolen from him in a robbery, but he later recanted, records show. He eventually told them he’d bought the Glock but sold it to “D,” and he told them about the purchase of the Taurus on behalf of “D.”
But Turner also said in court filings that Keys said to agents, “If I’m homeless, and I sell a gun to make money, is that a crime?”
A psychologist’s report noted that Keys sold a gun to provide money to his mother as his family struggled financially.
A prosecutor told the judge there is no reason to think Keys knew the Glock would be used to kill Jaslyn.
When told by a reporter that Keys had been given probation, Jontae Adams said it was “crazy that it’s that light of a sentence,” considering the case involved a gun used in the killing of a child.
But he said he doesn’t have a problem with the lack of prison time if Keys didn’t know how the gun would be used. He said it was common for people looking to make a quick buck to sell their guns to friends to use for protection and then report the guns stolen.
“If you purchase guns for the purposes of … murder, then that’s a different story than the person who just purchased a gun trying to make some quick cash,” Adams said.
Despite the light sentence, Adams said he’s grateful that Keys had been identified and charged at all, saying his daughter already received more justice than many children in Chicago whose killings go unsolved.
Adams had words of hope for Keys.
“If he was just involved in something at the wrong time, I pray that he learns from it,” Adams said. “I pray that he understands the severity of what happened and what this situation has done to our family.
“And I just pray that he keeps his head on straight and tries to stay away from these situations.”
Contributing: Frank Main, Sophie Sherry