Mother of boy, 6, who shot teacher faces sentencing for marijuana use while owning a gun

The mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher in a Virginia classroom is set to be sentenced and could face prison time for using marijuana while owning a gun

Ben Finley
Wednesday 15 November 2023 05:09 GMT
School Shooting Newport News
School Shooting Newport News

The mother of a 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher in Virginia is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday and could face prison time for using marijuana while owning a firearm, which is illegal under U.S. law.

Deja Taylor's son took her handgun to school and shot Abby Zwerner in her first-grade classroom in January, seriously wounding the educator. Investigators later found nearly an ounce of marijuana in Taylor’s bedroom and evidence of frequent drug use in her text messages and paraphernalia.

The federal charges against Taylor appear to be relatively rare and come at a time when marijuana is legal in many states, including Virginia.

Some U.S. courts in other parts of the country also have ruled against the federal law that bans drug users from having guns. But the law remains in effect in many states and has been used to charge others including Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden's son.

Federal prosecutors in Virginia argued in court filings that Taylor's “chronic, persistent and ... life-affecting abuse extends this case far beyond any occasional and/or recreational use."

Prosecutors said they’ll seek a 21-month prison sentence.

“This case is not a marijuana case," they wrote. “It is a case that underscores the inherently dangerous nature and circumstances that arise from the caustic cocktail of mixing consistent and prolonged controlled substance use with a lethal firearm.”

Taylor agreed in June to a negotiated guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Newport News in the state's southeast coastal region. She has been convicted of using marijuana while owning a gun as well as lying about her drug use on a federal form when she bought the firearm.

Taylor's attorneys said they'll ask for probation and home confinement, according to court filings. They argued that Taylor needs counseling for issues that include schizoaffective disorder, a condition that shares symptoms with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

They also said she needs treatment for marijuana addiction.

Addiction is a disease and incarceration is not the cure,” her attorneys wrote.

Taylor's attorneys also argued that the U.S. Supreme Court could eventually strike down the federal ban on drug users owning guns. For example, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in August that drug users shouldn’t automatically be banned from having guns.

Other lower courts have upheld the ban, and the Justice Department has appealed the 5th Circuit ruling to the Supreme Court. The high court hasn’t yet decided whether to take up the case.

“Ms. Taylor is deeply saddened, extremely despondent, and completely remorseful for the unintended consequences and mistakes that led to this horrible shooting,” her attorneys wrote.

Taylor’s sentencing could offer the first measure of accountability for January’s shooting, which revived a national dialogue about gun violence and roiled the military shipbuilding city of Newport News.

Taylor, 26, still faces a separate sentencing in December on the state level for felony child neglect. And Zwerner is suing the school system for $40 million, alleging that administrators ignored multiple warnings the boy had a gun.

Immediately after the shooting, the child told a reading specialist who restrained him: “I shot that (expletive) dead,” and “I got my mom’s gun last night,” according to search warrants.

Taylor’s son told authorities he obtained the gun by climbing onto a drawer to reach the top of a dresser, where the firearm was in his mom’s purse. Taylor initially told investigators that she had secured her gun with a trigger lock, but investigators never found one.

Taylor's grandfather has had full custody of her son, now age 7, since the shooting, according to court documents.

It wasn't the first time Taylor's gun was fired in public, prosecutors wrote. Taylor shot at her son's father in December after seeing him with his girlfriend.

“u kouldve killed me,” the father said to Taylor in a text message, according to a brief from prosecutors.

Sometime after her son shot his teacher, Taylor smoked two blunts, prosecutors added. She also failed drug tests while awaiting sentencing on the federal charges.

Taylor's attorneys said Taylor “vulnerably stands before this court humiliated, contrite and saddened."

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Associated Press reporter Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington contributed to this report.

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