URBANA — A convicted felon from Rantoul who said he accidentally shot a friend in the back a year ago was sentenced Thursday to 30 years in prison for possessing the weapon.
Champaign County Judge Tom Difanis imposed the maximum sentence he could on Steven Monroe, 28, saying that a message needs to "come across loudly and clearly to other young men who think they must possess a weapon."
Difanis said Monroe has been involved in the criminal justice system since he was 14 years old and hasn't gotten the message about changing his behavior.
In December, a jury convicted Monroe of unlawful use of weapons by a felon in connection with the Jan. 7, 2011, shooting of Dennis Droughns, which happened in Rantoul. The same jury couldn't reach a verdict in a separate case in which Monroe was charged with the murder of a man who lived just east of Rantoul, who had been fatally shot earlier that same day.
Monroe's attorney, Jim Dedman of Urbana, had argued that Monroe got in the back seat of the car in which Droughns was a front-seat passenger, and "there was an explosion in his pants."
Droughns, 21, of Rantoul, was shot in the back but not seriously injured.
"We had argued it showed (Monroe) didn't know how to use the gun because he didn't put the safety on. It had been fired and a bullet was in it ready to go. It went off by accident and injured his friend," Dedman said.
Because he can get day-for-day good time for the conviction, Monroe will be out in fewer than 15 years. He was given credit for a year already served in the county jail.
It was the shooting of Droughns that led to Monroe being charged with the first-degree murder of Marcus "Boo Man" Brown, 21, who lived in the Bell Apartments on U.S. 136.
He was shot in the back of the head but the bullet wasn't discovered until after an autopsy two days later. Authorities initially thought he may have died from an asthma attack since there was very little bleeding from his head, most of it having gone inward. Sheriff's deputies also learned that Mr. Brown's laptop computer had been stolen.
The bullet taken from Mr. Brown matched the one that came from the gun used to shoot Droughns, which was found in a home in Rantoul after Droughns was shot.
The same jury that convicted Monroe of unlawful use of weapons in connection with Droughns' shooting was unable to reach a unanimous verdict in the murder case. Assistant State's Attorney Steve Ziegler said he plans to retry Monroe for the murder.
One of Monroe's co-defendants in the murder case, Roy Duckworth, 27, of Rantoul, is in jail awaiting trial. Another, Joseph Emery, 33, has never been found. The murder charges were filed against the trio in April of last year.
Arguing for the maximum 30-year sentence for Monroe for the weapons conviction, Ziegler said Monroe's record shows he is not interested in behaving within the rules of society.
"Rehabilitation and deterrence have been tried. Neither has worked," said Ziegler.
Dedman asked merely for a more "appropriate" sentence, saying Monroe was not aware that the gun he admitted he had when Droughns was shot had been used to kill someone.