Teen sentenced to probation for shooting cousin with modified flare gun

Teen sentenced to probation for shooting cousin with modified flare gun

URBANA — A Champaign County Judge Wednesday sentenced a teen who shot his young cousin in the head with a modified flare gun, permanently injuring him, to probation and public service.

He also ordered that the teen's mother remain under the protective supervision of the Champaign County probation department since she was unable to say how the gun got in her house.

"This is something that is going to affect you the rest of your life. I have no doubt that you did not intend to injure your cousin. You were fooling with something you shouldn't have been messing with," Judge Harry Clem told the 16-year-old Urbana boy as he sentenced him to two years of probation and 50 hours of public service.

The youth pleaded guilty in juvenile court a month ago to reckless discharge of a firearm for shooting his 8-year-old cousin in the head with a flare gun that had been modified to accept shotgun shells. The shooting took place in the family home on Hawthorne Drive on July 1 about 10 p.m.

"I'm sure no one in the house was more surprised than you when the gun went off and you saw the injury it caused," Clem told the teen, going on to praise him for reacting appropriately by seeking immediate help for the boy and later admitting to what he had done. "I believe you to be a person of conscience."

"I'm taking into account you have not had one police contact before this," Clem said, echoing what Assistant State's Attorney Claire Sharples-Brooks and Assistant Public Defender Lindsey Yanchus had told him.

Both lawyers recommended probation for the teen, who they said does not smoke or drink, attends school regularly, and obeys the rules set down by his grandmother, who is his adoptive mother.

"No doubt he will suffer emotional consequences," Sharples-Brooks said. "But there must, as a society, be an external response."

She noted that the 8-year-old victim remains in a nursing home for children after having sustained the single shot to his brain. In four months, she said, the boy is scheduled to have a metal plate put in his head.

Sharples-Brooks recommended a month of detention for the teen, with two weeks to be served immediately.

But Yanchus called the interruption of the teen's schooling unnecessarily punitive, given that he has followed all the court orders and gotten in no trouble since his arrest in July.

"To take him out of school for two weeks would send the wrong message," Yanchus said.

The teen declined to say anything to the judge when given the chance but nodded in agreement when Clem called him a person of conscience.

His mother said she did not object to the protective supervision aspect of Clem's order, which means that probation officers are free to search her home for weapons or any other contraband.

"Somebody brought this lethal weapon into your home. I find it surprising — I'll put it that way — that no one seems to know who that was. Somebody took the time to make a dangerous device into a lethal device. It could only have been done to harm someone else," Clem said.

Urbana police sent the gun to the Illinois State Police crime lab to see if fingerprints could be lifted from it but that analysis hasn't been finished, police said Tuesday. A second loaded gun was also found in the same room where the backpack containing the flare gun had been.

Asked if she had questions about the order, the teen's mother told the judge: "I have 25 grandkids and they're all grown so I don't know who brought the gun in. I'm scared of guns. I've been shot before," she said.

Clem stressed that was reason for her to be even more vigilant in knowing what's going on in her own home. He set a review of the teen's case for Nov. 3.

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