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Article updated: 12/12/2012 3:29 PM

Gun control group sues website that sold gun in Oak Brook murder

By Christopher Placek

Theresa O'Rourke of Downers Grove says her longtime friendship with Jitka Vesel wasn't about where they were going -- it was about the journey.

"When you were sad, Jitka would let you cry on her shoulder, and then she'd make you laugh until you were going to bust a gut. And you knew you would be OK because Jitka was there with you.

"Jitka's not here anymore," she said.

On April 13, 2011, Vesel was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend Demetry Smirnov as she left an Oak Brook office complex.

Soon after Smirnov confessed to the murder and was sentenced to life in prison, O'Rourke vowed to push for tighter gun control laws through news conferences and letter-writing campaigns.

On Wednesday, O'Rourke and Vesel's brother Alex Vesely, supported by lawyers from a prominent national gun control advocacy group, took aim at an online classified ad site Smirnov visited to find the weapon he used to kill Vesel.

"It makes me angry that some murderous guy would just go and buy a gun on the Internet," Vesely said at a news conference at a Chicago law office. "Just go on the webpage and no problem -- you could buy it."

Vesely filed suit in Cook County circuit court Wednesday against the website, Armslist.com, where Smirnov read an ad for a .40-caliber handgun that he later purchased from a private dealer outside a Washington casino.

Jonathan Lowy, director of Brady Center's Legal Action Project and lawyer representing Vesely, said the lawsuit is the first of its kind against an online gun website tied to a shooting. He claimed Armslist, an LLC based in Oklahoma, "facilitated and profited off" Vesel's murder, and was a "legal cause" of her death.

"This should not happen in America," Lowy said. "Gun sellers and website operators should not be able to supply and profit from gun violence and murder. It should be harder to buy a semiautomatic handgun than a used sofa on Craigslist."

The suit says the website's design "facilitates illegal gun sales to unlawful gun buyers with no background checks and no questions asked." The site, by allowing buyers to search for weapons for sale in all 50 states, "encourages and enables users to evade laws" that prohibit the sale of firearms to residents of another state or country, according to the suit.

Smirnov, 21, was a citizen of Canada and not eligible for gun ownership, but after finding the gun on the website, he purchased it from Benedict Ladera, 31, of Kent, Wash. Ladera was sentenced to a year in prison in June for selling Smirnov the weapon.

The suit is seeking damages above $50,000 -- "in an amount necessary to fully and fairly compensate the next of kin for their losses."

Officials from Armslist did not respond to a request for comment.

The suit states the website makes money through paid advertisements from companies such as Pottery Barn, State Farm and Shutterfly.

"If a gun seller or gun website doesn't care that people like Jitka Vesel will be killed because of their irresponsible conduct, then maybe they will care about their bottom line," Lowy said. "A lawsuit like this can send a message."

According to the Armslist website, it was created in January 2009 "by a number of gun-owning and gun-loving Americans after seeing firsthand how the popular marketplace sites on the Internet shun firearms."

The free classified site lists hand guns, pistols, rifles, shotguns, ammunition, archery and hunting equipment.

Lowy cited published reports that Armslist.com was used by Radcliffe Haughton to purchase a gun used in the October shooting spree at a Wisconsin spa. But Lowy said the suit filed Wednesday only involves the Vesel murder case.

Smirnov had met Vesel, 36, of Westmont, in 2008 through an online dating service. Smirnov moved from Surrey, British Columbia, to the Chicago area to be with Vesel, but he moved back about a year later after Vesel broke up with him. Still, authorities said Smirnov continued to call and email Vesel.

Prosecutors said Smirnov returned to Chicago and glued a tracking device to the bottom of Vesel's car, then waited for her to leave a volunteer function at the Czechoslovak Heritage Museum on 22nd Street in Oak Brook before shooting at her 11 times.

Authorities said before coming to the Chicago area, Smirnov researched the death penalty online and learned it had been recently abolished in Illinois.

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