On Thursday afternoon, a standing-room-only crowd of men and women in collared shirts and colorful blouses sat on wooden benches and listened to a black-robed man speak somber words that gave federal court the feel of a church.
Except there was no singing, only tears.
Family, friends and fellow church members of three men convicted of illegal gun sales jammed into U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier's courtroom to hear how much time the judge would command each to serve in federal prison.
• Carl Monroe, 68, of Athens, Tenn., was sentenced to six months' probation;
• Jack Wardlaw, 66, of Columbia, Tenn., was sentenced to one year house arrest and a $4,000 fine;
• Kevin Dawson, 41, of Ooltewah, was sentenced to two years, 10 months in prison.
A fourth man, Richard Monroe, the brother of Carl Monroe, was acquitted by a jury.
Dawson's attorney, Lee Ortwein, told Collier that many in the crowded room were there for his client. And more than 100 letters of support came from people across Dawson's community.
Dawson read a letter of contrition to the judge and choked back tears when he reached a portion in which he apologized to his family for his actions.
ATF and IRS investigators built the case by using undercover agents and felons working with the agencies to buy guns from the men.
Agents first encountered Dawson while tracing guns purchased by convicted cop-killer Jesse Mathews, who bought a gun from Dawson.
Mathews later killed Chattanooga police Sgt. Tim Chapin during a failed robbery. The gun used in the killing was not the gun bought from Dawson.
An ATF agent told Dawson that if he wanted to continue to sell firearms he would need to get a federal firearms license.
Dawson continued selling weapons for more than a year without the license.
During the undercover operations, Dawson agreed to buy a Thompson .45-caliber submachine gun from an agent to resell to an unnamed man in Nashville.
Carl Monroe was found guilty of selling a weapon to a convicted felon.
Wardlaw, who is Dawson's father-in-law, admitted to investing $15,000 in his relative's gun business. Prosecutor Terra Bay told Collier that Wardlaw also made at least two sales to agents or people working with the government as part of the investigation.
Dawson forfeited 323 firearms as part of his plea deal.
Contact staff writer Todd South at 423-757-6347 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.