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Sean Duvall was charged with possessing a homemade gun after he called a suicide crisis line.
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
A judge has dismissed charges against a once-depressed veteran whose call for help to a suicide crisis line was answered by a federal indictment.
Sean Duvall had faced prison time for possessing a homemade gun he might have turned on himself had he not made the call.
After his prosecution drew controversy last year, Duvall was placed in Veterans Treatment Court, a diversion program for troubled veterans in Roanoke’s federal court.
On Wednesday, Judge Samuel Wilson dismissed the felony charges at the request of prosecutors, who cited the 46-year-old veteran’s successful completion of the program.
The case against Duvall began the night of June 8, 2011, when the homeless and depressed veteran was wandering the streets of Blacksburg.
On the verge of suicide, Duvall used his cellphone to call a toll-free crisis line operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to earlier court filings.
At the direction of a counselor who took the call, Duvall agreed to wait in the parking lot of Virginia Tech’s international student center until help arrived.
When a police officer showed up, Duvall handed over a backpack that held a crude gun he had made the week before. Constructed from a metal pipe, a shotgun shell and a nail for a firing pin, the weapon was designed to discharge when struck against a hard surface such as a wall.
After spending a short time in a psychiatric center, Duvall eventually was charged with possession of a destructive device and three related felonies.
At the time, advocates for veterans and the mentally ill raised concerns about the charges, saying they could have a chilling effect on those who reach out for help. By one estimate, 18 veterans commit suicide each day.
And Duvall’s lawyer, federal public defender Randy Cargill, argued that the prosecution violated a promise of confidentially made by the suicide crisis line.
When Duvall’s case was referred to Veterans Treatment Court a year ago, U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy said he had to weigh those concerns against the fact that Duvall was armed and dangerous while on the Tech campus, where memories persist of a mass murder by a mentally ill gunman.
“Any incidence of violence … is met there, and I think understandably so, with fear and tension and reliving of the awful events of 2007,” Heaphy said at the time.
Reached at his Blacksburg home Wednesday, Duvall said he was grateful to everyone involved in his case.
“The whole thing was pretty much a misunderstanding,” he said of concerns that he might have posed a threat to the Tech community.
Saying that he benefitted greatly from the Veterans Treatment Court, Duvall stressed that he hopes his experience will not prevent other veterans from calling the crisis line.
“I wouldn’t discourage anybody from using that number,” he said. “That’s the only number I called. I didn’t call anyone else.
“And really, it was a positive thing.”
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