A man receives the maximum prison sentence for weapons charges that came after an investigation into a Nelsonville man’s death

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – A man received a three-year prison sentence after entering a guilty plea to weapons charges. Those charges came after prosecutors said he gave a gun a Nelsonville man, whose disappearance sparked a months-long search, later used to kill himself.

Paul Joseph Coon, Jr.'s mugshot
Paul Joseph Coon, Jr. [Athens County Prosecutor’s Office]
Paul Joseph Coon, Jr. was sentenced to the maximum of 36 months in prison Thursday after Athens County Common Pleas Court Judge George McCarthy merged two weapons charges. The sentence runs consecutive to a two-year prison sentence out of Vinton County.

Coon pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with weapons under disability and illegal transactions of firearms.

He was interviewed by law enforcement three times after staff with the Athens County Sheriff’s Office and Athens County Prosecutor’s Office located him in Alabama.

Consistent with his prior statements, according to the Athens County Prosecutor’s office, Coon stated on the record that he and Brian “Kyle” Bridgeman left Bridgeman’s residence in Nelsonville alone in June 2021 and went to the hillside across the street from his home.

Originally, they had discussed shooting the gun, but Bridgeman had been drinking heavily and Coon was high on drugs.

Coon handed the firearm to Bridgeman who then shot himself. The State believed evidence at trial would show that Bridgeman and Coon were both talking of suicide and after Bridgeman shot himself, Coon fled because he was scared of a pending warrant out of Fairfield County for his arrest.

When Bridgeman didn’t return, his family reported him missing.

What followed was a monthslong search that stretched until November 10, when authorities finally located Bridgeman’s body in a wooded area not far from his house.

Recovered during the sheriff’s office and Ohio BCI&I search of the site was the $80 Bridgeman had on his person at the time.

During sentencing, Coon apologized for not coming forward sooner.

Bridgeman’s grandmother addressed the court and said she could not understand why Coon would leave his friend on that hill. She said all Coon had to do was come tell her and it would have saved her five months of agony.

His grandmother ultimately forgave Coon and hoped he left the life of drugs when he was released from prison.