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Slain cop family sues pawn shop over murder weapon sale

Thursday, April 25, 2013

It will be three years next month since the murder of police officer and Iraq war veteran Tom Wortham IV - shot to death in front of his parents' home by a group of men trying to steal his motorcycle.

The criminal case against three men charged with the murder is slowly moving forward, but today is about a civil action focused on gun trafficking, and the contention that the Mississippi gun dealer could have halted a straw buy that led to a death.

The .45 caliber handgun used in the murder of police officer Tom Wortham IV was purchased by a straw buyer in Byhalia, Miss. in 2007. It eventually made into the hands of street gang members now accused of Wortham's murder.

"It's ironic that he could survive two tours in Iraq, but couldn't survive the violence on the south side of Chicago," said his mother, Carolyn Wortham.

Wortham's parents are filing a civil lawsuit against Ed's Pawn Shop, the Mississippi gun dealer where the murder weapon was purchased.

The Worthams and the Brady Center for the prevention of gun violence contend that the gun dealer was negligent in allowing the sale.

Former Chicagoan Quawi Gates is doing a ten year federal prison sentence for gun trafficking in connection with the Wortham murder. Another man, Michael Elliott, was sentenced to six months for making the straw buy.

Mississippi's gun laws are far less restrictive than Illinois', but the lawsuit contends, and the Wortham's hope to show in a jury trial, that the pawn shop should have had sound reason to not make the sale to a man who bought three handguns with $1500 in cash.

Wortham's father - a retired 32 year veteran of the Chicago police department - wiped away tears this morning remembering that his son had told the Tribune that when people think of the south side, they think of violence.

ABC 7 Chicago was unable to reach anyone at Ed's Pawn Shop for comment. That dealer - like others nationwide - requires buyers on a federal form to state that the gun or guns they're buying are for the buyer's use - not someone else.

The seller, in this case, was not charged criminally with permitting a straw buy, but the Brady Center argues that there were multiple indicators beyond the letter of the law that should have prompted them to reasonably conclude that this should have been a no sale.

Convincing a jury of that may not be easy.

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