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BLOOMINGTON — Michael Stapleton chose a gangster lifestyle, surrounding himself with guns, drugs and people prone to violence, a prosecutor argued Monday at the 20-year-old defendant's sentencing hearing on drug charges.

Photos and clips from social media videos displayed in court showed a bare-chested young man clutching handguns and an AK-47. Posing with Stapleton in several photos was Christopher Harrison, 18, charged with killing two men at a Normal apartment complex, and Sydney Mays, 25, accused of shooting three people in Bloomington in another homicide case.

Stapleton was sentenced to two years in prison on felony marijuana charges.  As part of a plea agreement, the state dismissed a weapons charge stemming from a June search of an apartment in Normal.

Assistant State's Attorney En-Chi Lin laid out Stapleton's path to his fourth felony conviction, including his failures of probation and drug treatment programs. Stapleton is obsessed with guns and people who possess them, the prosecutor told Judge Casey Costigan.      

"He doesn't actually want to change. He's decided he wants to live the gangster life. He chose the life of guns and drugs," said Lin.

After the sentencing, Lin said "we hope that this will send a message to any individual that wants to be involved with illegal firearms that gun offenses will not be taken lightly in this county by the State’s Attorney’s Office or the court."

In a Snapchat video recorded near the Normal Police Department in June, Stapleton is shown walking as a friend describes him as someone with a pending warrant and a gun in his backpack. Stapleton waves in agreement.

The judge also reviewed a video of Stapleton and Mays smiling and pointing a handgun at the camera.

The judge declined to consider the pending cases against Mays and Harrison as part of Stapleton's sentencing, saying he did not see a sufficient link between the marijuana case and the two homicide cases.  

Normal Police Detective Kevin Ryan testified that Stapleton sold drugs to a confidential police source four times before he was arrested in June. The search of an apartment in the 300 block of East Vernon Avenue turned up three guns, including a .22 caliber Ruger with a defaced serial number  brought to the apartment by Stapleton, a witness told police.

A backpack with Stapleton's identification inside also contained a one-page, hand-written ledger of his guns, according to evidence presented by the state.

The screen saver photos on Stapleton's phone and the images on Snapchat show a circle of acquaintances who were proud of the large numbers and types of weapons they possessed. 

"We're never lacking," one of Stapleton's friends said of the arsenals in a video shown in court.    

The judge rejected a request by Rinker to place Stapleton on drug court probation, a program that includes drug treatment and assistance with employment and other issues that contribute to recidivism for substance abusers. Costigan said he had concerns about the public's safety if Stapleton is given a community-based sentence.

Stapleton turned down Costigan's offer to recommend him for the state's Impact Incarceration program, known as boot camp. Inmates normally complete the military-style program in several months.

In Stapleton's case, he will be given 144 days credit for time served in jail and is likely to receive enough additional credit from the Department of Corrections that could see him released in several months.

In his comments to the judge, Stapleton said completing his GED and a life skills course while in jail are indicative of his readiness to turn his life around.

"I've been running with the wrong people and using drugs every day. It's time for me to change and get this over with," said Stapleton.


Photos: 2018 McLean County jail mug shots

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Contact Edith Brady-Lunny at (309) 820-3276. Follow her on Twitter: @pg_blunny

McLean County Courts Reporter

McLean County courts reporter for The Pantagraph.