Lavante Neal
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URBANA — A Champaign man who admitted he shot another man last summer in Champaign, seriously injuring him, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Lavante Neal, 22, whose last known address was in the 2100 block of Summer Sage Court, pleaded guilty Monday before Judge Tom Difanis to aggravated battery with a firearm just before his jury trial on the charge was slated to begin.

Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher McCallum said he had no physical evidence to tie Neal to the crime but did have a description from the victim and the belief of Neal’s girlfriend that he may have been responsible for the shooting.

The charge stemmed from an encounter between Neal and the victim — who had never met before — on July 22 in the 1000 block of North James Street, outside the home of Neal’s girlfriend. The victim was a cousin to the girlfriend.

McCallum said there was never any clear motive for the shooting — Neal never talked to police — but speculated that Neal may have thought the victim was being too friendly with his girlfriend, unaware that they were related.

As the two men argued inside the home, the girlfriend/cousin asked them both to leave.

“They walk out and according to (the victim), they are in the front yard when Neal shoots him once in the stomach and takes off,” McCallum said.

The victim gave police a description of Neal as a short, dark-skinned male with long dreadlocks and tattoos on both hands. Additionally, the victim’s cousin told police she did not see the shooting but believed that her boyfriend could have done it as he was the only one around at the time.

That was enough for a judge to issue an arrest warrant for Neal.

It wasn’t until two months later that he was arrested for the shooting. By that time, Neal no longer had his long dreadlocks but McCallum noted that he remained short — Neal is 5 feet, 2 inches tall — and had tattoos on both hands.

McCallum said the victim had about a foot of his intestine removed as a result of the shooting and sustained a fractured pelvic bone but has substantially recovered.

McCallum had the victim and the victim’s cousin at court Monday prepared to testify when Neal told his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Matt Ham, that he was willing to consider a guilty plea.

Had he been convicted by a jury, Neal faced six to 30 years in prison. He had no prior convictions.

Neal had been arrested and charged in 2018 in connection with a Dec. 31, 2017, shooting of a man in the 1300 block of North Lincoln Avenue in Urbana but that charge was dismissed five months later when the prosecutor handling the case declared that the victim, his only witness, had “credibility issues.”

McCallum said Neal will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence and that the victim was satisfied with the resolution of the case.

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Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).