MAYVILLE, NY - A much-anticipated trial getting underway in Chautauqua County Court on Tuesday, is officially no longer a "Safe Act" case, according to prosecutors.
That is because some of the charges originally filed against Benjamin Wassell are not currently being pursued.
While the case may not test the limits of NY SAFE as originally anticipated, however, that does not mean it is of any less interest to Wassell's supporters.
"It still touches on certain things that people have traditionally held very dear, and that's your constitutional rights," said Wassell's attorney Michael Deal.
The case against Wassell, a former Marine wounded in combat in Iraq, was trumpeted at its outset by the State Attorney General's office, as the first NY SAFE Act prosecution.
Wassel was arrested just under a year ago, for allegedly selling two banned assault rifles to an undercover officer, on two separate occasions.
It was the second of those sales, involving an Armalite AR-10 Magnum Semi Automatic Rifle, which resulted in the charge of violating the SAFE Act, with prosecutors claiming that even when the undercover officer allegedly told Wassell he was a convicted felon, Wassell still sold the weapon, remarking, "This whole felony, banned for life thing, it's stupid."
However, a Grand Jury only indicted Wassell in connection with the first alleged sale, involving a Del-Ton AR-15 rifle along with 299 rounds of ammunition and six large-capacity magazines.
Because it would have been illegal to sell it privately (due to its configuration and characteristics) even before the SAFE Act was signed, the SAFE Act does not come into play.
Although, that doesn't make things any less serious for Wassell, according to Deal, whose client still faces up to 7 years behind bars if convicted of the remaining counts against him.
"To say that this has been a trying time for him and his family is a gross understatement," Deal told WGRZ-TV.
In the meantime, an on line fundraising drivecontinues to draw from donors for Wassell's defense.
"I think it says maybe a couple of things," remarked Deal. "It's a reflection on Ben himself, and it's a reflection on the community,"
An Erie County judge will preside at the trial, after two Chautauqua County judges recused themselves because they are both members of the National Rifle Association (NRA).