Judge certifies weapons charges against former Virginia Tech student

By Heather Butterworth - Digital Content Producer, Rachel Lucas - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. - A former Virginia Tech student is in a Montgomery County courtroom Thursday facing felony weapons charges. 

Nineteen-year-old Yunsong Zhao is accused of having a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, illegally paired with a 30 round magazine. 

It is legal to have the rifle and magazine separately, but it is against the law to have them together. 

In a preliminary hearing, defense attorneys challenged a witness who says Zhao used the weapon with the extended magazine. 

In video that was shown in court Thursday, it appears that Zhao's Bushmaster AR-15 style rifle was loaded with a 20 round magazine and that there were two other 20 round magazines on a nearby table. Only three 20 round magazines were ever recovered.

Despite not having the 30 round magazine, judge Gino said there was probable cause to send the case to the grand jury. 

The defenses witness Walter Hall, owner of Pawn Plus in Christiansburg, testified Zhao bought the gun from the store. It came with two 30 round magazine cartridges but Hall also testified that Zhao traded those in for a gun sling. Zhao testified that he knew he was not allowed to use a 30 round magazine in his gun, despite being legally allowed to own it, so he traded it “to be safe and not to have them.”

The judge also said in court, "based on what I’ve seen today the commonwealth is going to have a hard time with its case.”

Zhao could be released on a $2,500 bond but it is not known if he will post it. If he does, he could potentially be taken into custody by ICE, since he is no longer a student. He was in the United States on a student visa and was not a US citizen. 

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