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Gunman Denied Access To Friend’s Alleged Killers Turns Gun On Self

January 30, 1985 GMT

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) _ A man who ″had been very depressed″ over his friend’s death tried to ″execute″ three inmates accused in the killing, then shot himself when denied access to the prisoners, police said.

Mark Bradley Smith, 23, who was buried Tuesday, walked into the county jail lobby early Friday with a .357-caliber Magnum, looking for three men charged in the July 15 robbery and killing of James Burton, a service station attendant.

″I guess we’ll never know for sure″ what Smith’s motives were, Grand Traverse County Undersheriff Joseph Smith said on Tuesday.


″He had been very depressed over his friend being shot,″ but had no history of psychological problems, the undersheriff said.

A staff psychologist checked the possibility that Mark Smith may have been copying New York City subway gunman Bernhard Goetz, but could not reach that conclusion, Smith said.

″He didn’t feel the legal system would take care of it,″ Smith said. ″He didn’t want these people getting away with it. Of course, two of them already pleaded to lesser charges.″

In plea bargains earlier this month, Douglas Hutchinson, 20, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and Kevin Snyder, 25, pleaded guilty to armed robbery in the service station holdup.

James Gainforth, 20, charged in the murder, wasn’t in the jail when Smith walked into the lobby. He had escaped the day before and was at large 12 hours before his capture.

City police officer Charles Phelps, the first to answer the jailers’ call for assistance, waited until backup officers were in place and went into the lobby to talk with the gunman, Police Chief Ralph Soffredine said.

The gunman demanded to see Gainforth, and was told the escapee had not yet returned to the lockup, the chief said. ″Then he said he wanted the other two and he wanted to execute them.″

Phelps persuaded Mark Smith to sit down in a chair about six feet from him and ″tried to talk the young man out of shooting himself,″ Soffredine said. ″Twice he talked the man into taking the gun away from his head.″

The gunman talked to the officer about 20 minutes before pulling the trigger, Soffredine said, and died in Traverse City’s Munson Medical Center on Saturday.

Soffredine said jail personnel ″did exactly what they were supposed to″ in dealing with the distraught gunman.

″Had they not used their heads, there would have been some more dead people there,″ he said.