Attorney: Rantoul shooting victim wanted to go back to school | Courts-police-fire


RANTOUL — Rantoul’s first homicide of 2023 involved a young victim who was no stranger to gun violence.

Preston Sullivan, 17, of Rantoul died Wednesday night, just a day after having been released from juvenile prison for shooting a woman in Rantoul less than a year ago.

“His mom went to pick him up (Tuesday). On the drive home, he was wanting to fill out his enrollment papers for school,” said Baku Patel, the Urbana attorney who represented Mr. Sullivan.

Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup said Mr. Sullivan was pronounced dead at Carle Foundation Hospital, Urbana, at 11:35 p.m. Wednesday, almost an hour after Rantoul police found him in the 1000 block of St. Andrews Circle with multiple gunshot wounds. An autopsy is scheduled for today.

Patel said the 18-year-old woman who was shot near him was his girlfriend. She was also hit multiple times and remained hospitalized Thursday.

Rantoul Sgt. Jim Schmidt said that at 10:40 p.m., police received several calls about shots fired on the village’s east side. They arrived to find residents tending to both victims. Police administered first aid until the pair could be taken to the hospital.

“The only thing we have so far is that an unknown person in dark clothing approached the area on foot. That’s a large apartment complex area,” Schmidt said.

Investigators have interviewed several people, but most only heard the gunfire and did not see what happened, he said.

Police found eight 9 mm bullet casings that all appeared to come from the same gun.

In late February, Champaign County Judge Anna Benjamin had sentenced Mr. Sullivan to 10 years in prison for aggravated battery with a firearm.

He pleaded guilty to shooting a 27-year-old woman in the stomach on May 29, 2022, at a party on Abram Drive. The woman showed up to defend her 12-year-old nephew, who was being bullied by another male, when Mr. Sullivan intervened.

In an emotional hearing to confirm the agreement that Patel and State’s Attorney Julia Rietz had negotiated, the victim lambasted Rantoul police for not doing enough to thoroughly investigate her shooting by Mr. Sullivan, who she said brazenly fired at her from about 6 feet away.

She was distraught at his minimal punishment under the extended-jurisdiction juvenile provision of the law that Rietz and Patel agreed was appropriate for Mr. Sullivan. He was 16 at the time of that shooting and had no prior convictions.

Prosecution under that system enables juveniles charged as adults, as Mr. Sullivan was because his was a shooting crime, to serve indeterminate sentences in juvenile prisons but be subject to adult penalties if they fail at parole as a juvenile.

Rietz said Mr. Sullivan was arrested the same night as the shooting and had been in custody for 252 days when Benjamin sentenced him to prison.

The prosecutor said during his time in detention in Urbana, he was “well-behaved and did not present any issues.”

Patel was more effusive about Mr. Sullivan, with whom he had spent many hours in several meetings preparing for trial.

“He was very respectful, always said, ‘Yes, sir; no, sir.’ I told him he should go to the military,” said Patel, a former Navy attorney commissioned as an officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. “He loved his family immensely and had a sister born while he was in custody and never had a relationship with her.”

Patel said Mr. Sullivan saw himself as the “man of the house” in a household that also included his working single mother and an older sister.

Rietz said that typically in juvenile cases, she receives notification from the Department of Juvenile Justice when an inmate is eligible for release but is not notified when the actual release happens.

Mr. Sullivan served just under seven weeks in the state facility after having been in the Juvenile Detention Center about 275 days.

“My understanding was that he was to be held for a significantly longer time given that this was an extended-jurisdiction juvenile offense,” Rietz said.

She said the department has a procedure under which prosecutors can protest the early release of a juvenile, but she had not done that.

“I wouldn’t think I would have to request a protest hearing to prevent him from being killed,” Rietz said.

Dominique Newman, a spokeswoman for the department, said statistics from 2022 showed the average length of stay in a juvenile prison was 5.7 months.

“Please note that length of stay is determined by the offense for which a youth is committed, along with the progress the youth makes while committed,” she said, adding that the youth also gets credit for time served before a case is resolved.

Patel said he believed the sincerity of his client, who he conceded “overreacted” in the face of a huge fight in which Mr. Sullivan also got injured.

“He did what he felt was needed in self-defense. Luckily, no one was severely injured,” Patel said. “That was an appropriate disposition because there was a lot of reasonable doubt.”

Even Rietz told the judge that the police investigation into the shooting that resulted in Mr. Sullivan’s arrest was “mediocre” and felt that she could lose at trial, so she entered the negotiated plea with Patel that netted Mr. Sullivan a juvenile adjudication.

“He trusted me immensely in everything I said and was advising,” Patel said. “When it was time, he accepted responsibility and never looked back. He apologized and just wanted to start a new life. He really did. All he talked to me about was school, school, school.”

The veteran defense attorney said he counsels many clients about the importance of getting an education.

“This kid was actually taking that to heart,” he said.

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