URBANA — A Champaign man described as a model worker, devoted son and loving boyfriend was sentenced to 10 years in prison for carrying a loaded gun when he shouldn't have.
James Estes, 36, of the 700 block of Tawney Court, pleaded guilty Thursday before Judge Heidi Ladd to unlawful possession of a firearm, admitting that he had a loaded gun in the console of his sport utility vehicle on Feb. 9 when he was stopped in Champaign.
Champaign police officer Daniel Ward said Estes admitted to police that he normally kept the gun there.
Police stopped him shortly after a woman at the Economy Motel, 914 W. Bloomington Road, called police to report that Estes had taken money and clothing from her, then left.
He was subsequently charged with armed robbery and being an armed habitual criminal, both of which were dismissed in return for his guilty plea to the weapons charge.
Because of prior convictions, Estes was eligible for an extended term of three to 14 years in prison. The prior felony convictions — two for drug-related offenses and one for burglary — also make it illegal for him to have a gun. He also had four convictions for driving under suspension and revocation.
Assistant State's Attorney Scott Bennett argued for the prison term, reciting for the judge Estes' criminal record and previous opportunities at probation.
"Despite all his good qualities, he has spent virtually his whole adult life in trouble," Bennett said.
Defense attorney Dan Jackson had Estes' employer, his mother and his pregnant girlfriend testify on his behalf. His employer said Estes never missed work in 2011 or 2012 and could be counted on to work overtime, while his mother said Estes looked in on her frequently as she deals with a medical condition. His girlfriend, a social worker expecting their child in October, said Estes was a good father to his son by another woman and a good role model to her younger brother who doesn't have a father.
Jackson urged the judge to consider all those qualities and impose a sentence closer to the minimum.
But Ladd said Estes "is not a kid anymore" and that he had shown "no inclination to learn from his past mistakes."
Ladd said Estes had a good support network in place at the time of his latest arrest and "there was no reason to go back to felony behavior but that's what he chose to do. He had no business carrying a gun and everything in place to be successful."