NRA's Top Lawyer Was Convicted of Murder

But a high court overturned Robert Dowlut's sentence

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 17, 2014 4:00 PM CDT

(Newser) – The NRA's top lawyer argues in favor of gun ownership for self-defense—but it turns out he was convicted of shooting a woman in cold blood 50 years ago, Mother Jones reports. In 1964, a jury found Robert Dowlut guilty of killing his girlfriend's mother in South Bend, Indiana. "He said he wanted to marry his girlfriend," said a police detective, but the girl's mother, Anna Yocum, was against it, "and he didn't like Mrs. Yocum." Police said Dowlut, a polite 17-year-old on Army leave, had confessed to the crime and led them to the buried murder weapon. The gun matched a bullet in the Yocum killing and another from a nearby pawnshop robbery where the owner had been shot and wounded. What's more, Dowlut had been convicted of armed robbery in 1962.

Pleading not guilty, Dowlut was sentenced to life in Indiana State Prison for second-degree murder. But the Indiana Supreme Court overturned the ruling in 1968, saying Dowlut had the right to not incriminate himself (and reveal the gun's location) during police questioning—during which Dowlut says he was threatened and refused a lawyer. Freed on all charges, he went back to the Army, got college and law degrees, joined the NRA, and rose to become its general counsel as the nonprofit morphed into an aggressive, powerful interest group. Dowlut has argued against the idea that "average Joe" gun owners perpetrate "a significant share of serious violence," but the detective who interrogated Dowlut claims the teenager made this remark:

  • "He leaned back in his chair and he said, 'Well, you know, Sergeant, it's just like a person is two people.' And I said, 'What do you mean by that?' and he said, 'Well, if one part of me can love and the other part can kill.'"
Click to see documents from Dowlut's murder trial, or the NRA's apology to pro-gun activists in Texas.

NRA members listen to speakers during the NRA Annual Meeting of Members at the National Rifle Association's 142 Annual Meetings and Exhibits on Saturday, May 4, 2013, in Houston.
NRA members listen to speakers during the NRA Annual Meeting of Members at the National Rifle Association's 142 Annual Meetings and Exhibits on Saturday, May 4, 2013, in Houston.   (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Johnny Hanson)
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