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Woman linked to Webster fire ambush pleads not guilty

A woman accused of helping to arm a former neighbor who ambushed firefighters at his burning home doesn’t deny buying two guns but is not guilty of the charge, her lawyer said following her arraignment Monday.

Dawn Nguyen, 24, pleaded not guilty to a three-count grand jury indictment charging her with lying on a form while buying a rifle and shotgun, transferring the guns to a known felon, William Spengler Jr., and possessing guns while being a marijuana user.

Spengler killed himself Dec. 24 after fatally shooting two firefighters and wounding two others and a police officer as they arrived at a fire he had set at his home in the town of Webster.

“She definitely bought the guns. Without a doubt, she bought the guns,” lawyer Matthew Parrinello said outside U.S. District Court after the arraignment. Nguyen, who is free on bail, stood silently at his side. “The question going forward is, are they going to be able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt? Did it happen the way the public thinks it happened? It did not, definitely.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bret Puscheck said the government intends to use a statement made by Nguyen the day of the shooting in which she told police that she purchased the guns in 2010 but that they were later stolen.

Parrinello, without elaborating, said the statement could help his case. He also expressed doubt Nguyen could receive a fair trial in Rochester and indicated he may seek a change of venue.

Three members of the Webster and West Webster Fire Departments were in court for the hearing.

“It’s our intent to let the defense know that we’re going to see to it that this doesn’t go under the radar,” West Webster Fire District Commissioner Tom Link said afterward. “We’re going to be there every step of the way through the whole court hearing.”

Nearby on the courthouse plaza, Sam Paris, of Penfield, carried a hand-lettered sign listing the names of Spengler’s victims. He said he was there to show support for the first responders and for the prosecution of Nguyen.

“We lost two great guys,” Paris said. He said he had met Michael Chiapperini, who was killed along with Tomasz Kaczowka.

The wounded men, he added, “are scarred for life.”

The indictment charges Nguyen with falsely stating on a federal form that she would be the owner of the Bushmaster .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle and Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun she purchased at a Gander Mountain store in June 2010. She also is charged with selling or disposing of the guns to a known felon and of possessing firearms while being an unlawful user of marijuana.

Each charge carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a fine of as much as $250,000.

Spengler had been released from prison in 1996 after serving 17 years for killing his grandmother with a hammer. As a convicted felon, he was barred from possessing weapons.

After his death, investigators found a rambling, typed letter laying out Spengler’s intention to destroy his neighborhood and “do what I like doing best, killing people.”

Remains believed to be those of his 67-year-old sister, Cheryl Spengler, also were found in the burned-out home the two had shared.

Nguyen is due back in federal court May 23 for a motions hearing. She also faces a state charge of falsifying a business record.