Charge Dismissed in Airport Gunshot Case

June 28, 2003
Toni Heinzl
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH- Federal agents have concluded that a gun that accidentally discharged in a passenger’s bag, injuring a baggage screener at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, may have been placed in the luggage without the bag owner’s knowledge.

On Thursday, Judge Terry Means dismissed the indictment against Brenda Rhea-Lasne of Key West, Florida. She had been accused of attempting to carry a loaded handgun aboard a flight to Kansas City, Missouri.

The baggage handler was shot in the heel April 11 when he took a red and black nylon duffel bag off the luggage conveyor belt at Gate C-19 and set it in the ramp area. A .45 caliber, two-shot derringer-type handgun in the bag discharged. Rhea-Lasne had originally checked the bag on an American Airlines flight from Miami.

When defense attorneys David Finn and John Teakell of Dallas met with FBI agents and prosecutors at the airport, they received information indicating that Rhea-Lasne didn’t know the gun was in her bag, Finn said Friday.

“The gun belonged to her husband, who thought it had been lost,” Finn said.

“They had been moving. They were living on a shrimp boat in Key West. The gun was found at the bottom of a nylon bag, covered by 25 sewing magazines. It was put there during the move.”

The gun was dusted for fingerprints.

“There were no prints of hers found on the gun or the ammunition,” Finn said.

To win a conviction, prosecutors would have had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rhea-Lasne knew the gun was in her bag when she tried to board the plane, her lawyer said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Worley filed a motion to dismiss the case Wednesday.

In the motion, he said follow-up investigation by agents from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security indicated “that evidence is insufficient to establish the defendant’s knowledge of the presence of the firearm in her bag, beyond a reasonable doubt, in that it was located in such a fashion that even a cursory search of the bag failed to reveal its presence.”

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