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Grand Forks airman who purchased gun used in murder-suicide discharged from Air Force, sentenced to prison

Daesha Renae Heard, 22, pleaded guilty in a military courtroom on April 26 to illegally obtaining a firearm for a younger airman last year. Less than one month after she purchased him the gun, he used it to fatally shoot another airman and then himself.

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A view of the visitors gate at the Grand Forks Air Force Base is shown as it stood in 2019. Eric Hylden / Grand Forks Herald
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A Grand Forks airman will spend 100 days in prison and will receive a bad conduct discharge from the U.S. Air Force for illegally purchasing the firearm that was used in a murder-suicide last spring at Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Airman First Class Daesha Renae Heard, 22, pleaded guilty in a military courtroom on Monday, April 26, to making false statements after obtaining a firearm last year on behalf of A1C Julian Torres, who was not of legal age to purchase a gun. Less than one month after Heard purchased the firearm, Torres used it to fatally shoot another airman, 21-year-old A1C Natasha Aposhian, before using it to kill himself in a dormitory on the base on June 1.

In an emotional statement to the court on Monday, Heard expressed sorrow for the loss of life, and expressed a wish to share her story with others to motivate them not to make the same mistakes.

"I never believed A1C Torres would hurt himself or anyone else," Heard said through tears. "At the time, I thought it was a favor to a friend. After I learned what he had done to himself and to A1C Aposhian, I was devastated, and I continue to be devastated to this day."

According to court documents, Heard told investigators that in early May 2020, Torres, 20, asked her repeatedly to purchase a firearm on his behalf to use recreationally at the gun range. On May 5, she conceded, and the two drove to B&B Guns in Grand Forks, where Torres picked out a Glock model 22C .40.

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Heard said she filled out purchasing paperwork while Torres waited in the car. As part of that paperwork, she checked a box agreeing that she was the actual owner of the gun.

U.S. prosecutor Capt. Daniel Carraway argued that Heard's actions failed to measure up to the integrity and courage embodied by the U.S. Air Force, but Heard's civilian attorney, Donnell Smith, said that despite being "terrified" in the wake of the tragedy, she immediately accepted responsibility and cooperated with authorities.

"She's a work in progress, as we all are," Smith said. "She's trying to be better."

Also in attendance at the court-martial was Heard's mother, Cearia Elliott, of St. Louis. During questioning by Heard's defense attorney, Capt. Kaylee Gum, Elliott testified to her daughter's character and a strong support system at home. She also said she was surprised and disappointed to learn of her daughter's actions, but said Heard had expressed remorse multiple times, and Elliott did not believe Heard would make the same mistake again.

Aposhian's mother, Megan Aposhian, also was in the courtroom and prepared to give a victim impact statement. However, there was disagreement as to whether Megan Aposhian fit the legal definition of a victim in Heard's case.

Ultimately, the court ruled that she did not. While Aposhian's death did arise as an indirect consequence of Heard's actions, the line connecting Heard's offenses and Aposhian's death was too thin, reasoning that Aposhina's death was not an outcome Heard could have reasonably foreseen, and there is no evidence that Torres had any ill intent for the gun when it was purchased.

A second charge of possessing marijuana with intent to distribute -- the result of purchasing a total of about 5 grams of marijuana for Torres on multiple occasions -- was dismissed with prejudice as part of a plea agreement.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTS
Hannah Shirley covers crime, courts and criminal justice for the Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2018 graduate of the University of Idaho and has lived and worked in Grand Forks since 2019. Prior to moving to North Dakota, she worked as a reporter for the Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass., a receptionist for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, Idaho, and a barista in a New York City coffee shop. She can be reached by phone at (701) 780-1267 or by email at hshirley@gfherald.com.
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