URBANA — A Tolono man who armed himself despite a criminal past that made having a gun illegal has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Judge Heidi Ladd said Andrew McCormick, 40, had no business possessing a weapon a year ago, much less pulling it to shoot at a 17-year-old man who was upset with McCormick for interrupting his sleep with loud music.
"The potential for this to go so horribly wrong is chilling. All he had to do if he was afraid was to dial the police," Ladd said in sentencing McCormick on Wednesday for unlawful possession of weapon by a felon.
McCormick pleaded guilty to that in January. He is eligible for day-for-day good time and was given credit for 107 days already served. The maximum he could have received was 14 years in prison.
In return, Assistant State's Attorney Matt Banach dismissed more serious charges of aggravated discharge of a firearm and armed habitual criminal.
The charges stemmed from McCormick's arrest May 8 by Champaign County sheriff's deputies for his actions the night before.
The victim, now 18, told the judge he was at his home southeast of Tolono about 9:30 p.m. when McCormick, a man with whom he had previous unpleasant run-ins, drove by his house in a Jeep playing music so loud that he jumped in his car to follow McCormick to confront him.
"After many times of it happening, I was getting tired of losing sleep," he said.
The two drove in their respective vehicles east and south of Tolono until both stopped in an area with no houses or businesses around. The victim got out of his car to approach McCormick when two shots rang out, one of which hit the ground about 3 feet in front of the younger man, sending gravel flying upward. He was not hit.
Under questioning by defense attorney Dan Jackson, the younger man said he was prepared to argue with and fight McCormick, but "I was not expecting a gun."
Both men then took off and the victim called 911.
Sheriff's deputies found a spent casing near where the victim said the shots were fired. Hours later, they found McCormick's Jeep in Pesotum.
Sheriff's detective Tim Beckett said a court-authorized search of the Jeep and McCormick's home in The Oaks the next day led to the eventual discovery of a .45-caliber gun and four magazines for it.
Beckett said after initially denying any knowledge of a gun, McCormick eventually admitted that he had fired a gun, then gave it to his girlfriend to hide.
Banach argued for the 12-year sentence, noting that McCormick's record began in 1992 as a juvenile for battery. As an adult, he had three felony convictions for drug-related offenses, four misdemeanor convictions and more than a dozen traffic convictions.
Banach acknowledged that the younger Tolono man's decision to follow McCormick over loud music was "foolish, reckless and unwise."
"McCormick was expected to be the adult. The proper resolution was not for him to fire off a gun it was illegal for him to have," he argued.
To lessen McCormick's sentence, Jackson called McCormick's mother and his ex-wife, the mother of three of his four children, who both testified to him being a loving son and father even as he struggled with drug use. Jackson presented Ladd with several letters of support from friends and former clients of McCormick, who had his own home improvement business for many years.
"He's a good man. He made a mistake," said Jackson, noting that McCormick did eventually admit to police what he had done and pleaded guilty.
McCormick apologized for his actions and even thanked the victim for calling police and "saving my life."
"I was considering taking my life. That incident opened my eyes to how precious life is," he said.
Despite the mitigation, Ladd was not inclined to give McCormick much of a break, given the multiple chances at community-based sentences.
She also noted that he had been placed on conditional discharge in Vermilion County for driving under revocation just six days before the gun incident.
"He had no right whatsoever to have a gun. It makes it all the more significant that he did use it," the judge said.
"Our community is stricken with the tragic results of individuals who believe they can use guns to dispense justice. ... It has to stop," said Ladd.