A New Jersey man serving seven years in prison for possessing two legally-owned guns, disassembled and in the trunk of his car while moving residences, has had his sentence commuted.
Brian Aitken, 25, a successful media consultant, had been in the process of selling his home in Colorado and moving to a suburban New Jersey apartment to be closer to his son, 2, when he was arrested in a bizarre sequence of events.
His lawyers had called the subsequent trial and conviction the "perfect storm of injustice."
Thousands of gun owners across the country rallied to Aitken's cause, with more than 15,000 joining Facebook support group calling for his release.
Gov. Chris Christie signed an order Monday night that commuted Aitken's sentence to time served.
"I am shell shocked," said Aitken's father, Larry, who was at the prison awaiting Brian's release later today. "The commutation is purely the governor saying how ridiculous this sentence is and it ends now."
"This wasn't just about gun rights, this was about a fair trial. And this really was a gross injustice," said Aitken's attorney, Evan Napper.
Joel Bewley, a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office which brought the case, declined to comment on the commuted sentence.
Aitken's ordeal began on Jan. 3, 2009, when he confided in his mother during a moment of emotional distress at home that life wasn't worth living.
He stormed out of his parent's suburban home, hopped into his car filled with belongings and drove off, according to accounts provided by Napper and Larry Aitken.
Brian's mother, a social worker trained to be sensitive to suicidal indicators, instinctively dialed 911 but abruptly hung up, second-guessing her reaction. But police tracked the call, came to the home and greeted Brian when he returned to make sure he was OK.
Then they asked to search his car.
Buried in the trunk, beneath piles of clothes and boxes of dishes, was a black duffle bag holding a boot box containing two handguns; "unloaded, disassembled, cleaned and wrapped in a cloth," his father said.
There were also several large-capacity magazines and cartons of hollow-point bullets.
Aitken had legally purchased the guns at a Denver sporting goods store two years earlier, he said.
But transporting a gun without a special permit or in a handful of exempt situations is illegal in New Jersey, giving officers no choice but to arrest Aitken and charge him with a crime. The magazines and bullets are also illegal in the state, experts said.
Aitken and his family believed the incident was a fluke because the weapons were disassembled and locked in the trunk, Aitken had cleared FBI background checks and even inquired about gun laws in New Jersey so he could be in compliance after the move.
"For quite some time I was pretty confident as soon as intelligent people with logical minds took a look at what happened they might slap him with a fine or something," Aitken's father Larry said. "When the prosecutor came down with an indictment, I was dumbfounded."
But after a two and a half day trial in August, a jury convicted Aitken of the charges and a judge sentenced him to seven years in prison.
"Lawful possession of a firearm in New Jersey is exemption-based," said Napper, adding that moving from one residence to another is one of the exempt instances for carrying a weapon outside the home.
Aitken had been making several trips to and from Colorado between late 2008 and early 2009, his father said, ferrying his belongings to New Jersey where he spent some time living with his parents and other times living with friends while he found a permanent dwelling.
"As anyone who has moved cross-country will tell you, it's a messy process," Larry Aitken said.
But the judge in the case did not allow the jury to consider the moving exemption during the trail, ruling that no evidence was presented that Aitken was actually moving at the time the guns were found. Aitken did not testify in the trial.
"The defendant's attorneys presented evidence that his house was for sale and that at the time of arrest he was travelling from one residence in New Jersey to another," Joel Bewley, a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, told ABC News. "Those points do not establish that the defendant was moving."
"This sentence was entirely and statutorily mandated upon this conviction," Bewley said.
Napper said he is continuing a legal appeal of the conviction, which, he said, could take six to nine months.
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