I'll keep my commentary short.... but... wow. Kudos to Mother Jones for digging into this. Certainly an interesting read:
Today, the 68-year-old Bob Dowlut is the general counsel of the National Rifle Association. As the NRA's top lawyer, he has been a key architect of the gun lobby's campaign to define the legal interpretation of the Second Amendment. He helped oversee the NRA's effort to strike down Chicago's handgun ban in the 2010 Supreme Court case McDonald v. Chicago, and he is the longtime secretary of the organization's Civil Rights Defense Fund, which has spent millions assisting gun owners in court and sponsoring gun rights researchers. Dowlut's journal articles have been cited by federal judges and are quoted by pro-gun activists.
The story of how Dowlut walked away from a murder conviction and rose through the ranks of the NRA has never been told publicly. It begins with the transcript of his murder trial, part of a 2,100-page court file obtained by Mother Jones that includes detailed closed-door testimony not heard by the jury. Despite a series of phone calls and detailed written requests seeking comment for this article, Dowlut did not respond, nor did his wife. It is unclear whether he has ever disclosed his past to any colleagues—Hardy told me he had "no idea" about the murder conviction—or to his employer; LaPierre and other NRA leaders also did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Dowlut was apparently always one of those bad guys with guns who needed stopping:
Dowlut was already familiar to the police. In January 1962, according to the South Bend Tribune, he had admitted to what a front-page article described as a "crime spree": Armed with guns stolen from the local historical society's museum, Dowlut and another teenager had robbed a café, netting about $135. Witnesses at the café said the two had brandished a pistol and a homemade zip gun, firing a shot before emptying the tillNow the NRA rails against 'lenient sentencing' of violent criminals and how it is the very reason they need to be armed. However Dowlut:
After conferring in Polish with Dowlut's parents, refugees who had immigrated after the war, Judge Frank X. Kopinski opted for lenience. "My logic tells me you should be sent away, but my heart says no," the judge told Dowlut, according to the Tribune. Dowlut was put on probationIn this case however, he proved them right:
Shortly before dark on the evening of April 17, 1963, Robert J. Dowlut went looking for a gun inside the city cemetery in South Bend, Indiana. Making his way through the headstones, he stopped in front of the abandoned Studebaker family mausoleum. He knelt by the front right corner of the blocky gray monument and lifted a stone from the damp ground. Then, as one of the two police detectives accompanying him later testified, the 17-year-old "used his hands and did some digging." He unearthed a revolver and ammunition. As Dowlut would later tell a judge, the detectives then took the gun, "jammed it in my hand," and photographed him. "They were real happy."Gawker summarizes what happened post conviction:
Two days earlier, a woman named Anna Marie Yocum had been murdered in her South Bend home. An autopsy determined she had been shot three times, once through the chest and twice in the back, likely at close range as she'd either fled or fallen down the stairs from her apartment. Two .45-caliber bullets had pierced her heart.
But after serving half a decade in prison, and despite solid forensic evidence matching Dowlut's dug-up pistol to the murder, the Indiana Supreme Court found that police had overzealously violated his constitutional rights in obtaining that confession—they reportedly denied him a lawyer despite multiple requests—and his conviction was overturned. Prosecutors gave up on trying the case again when much of their evidence was tossed out with the confession.and also notes:
As Gilson points out, it's unclear whether Dowlut ever told anyone at the gun group, including close friend and frontman Wayne LaPierre, about his criminal past. Ironically, his and the NRA's rhetoric of demonizing criminals as "not like us" and praising "good guys with guns" is precisely the kind of Manichaean outlook that once led cops to violate his civil rights as a murder suspect. Then again, maybe the cops and the NRA were right. Maybe Dowlut's not a good guy with a gun, but just another criminal lowlife.