URBANA — After seeing repeated prosecutions for the same crimes over and over for 23 years, Judge Tom Difanis often wonders aloud if his sentences deter anyone.
Still, he mentions deterrence every time he sends a person to prison, as he did Tuesday when he sentenced Sheldon Gross of Rantoul to 10 years behind bars for shooting up a house in Foosland.
"That is a serious problem facing Champaign County: young men armed with firearms opening fire," Difanis said.
Under truth-in-sentencing laws, Gross must serve 85 percent of the sentence. He was given credit for nine months already served.
Gross, 24, of Rantoul pleaded guilty in September to aggravated discharge of a firearm, admitting that on Feb. 3, he fired a gun at a house in the 200 block of Sixth Street in Foosland.
The reason, according to Assistant State’s Attorney Troy Lozar: Gross was upset at the resident for shorting him on a cash payment for cannabis. The victim had chosen to pay off part of his drug debt with a Sammy Sosa baseball card, which Gross apparently disagreed was worth as much as the man who offered it in payment believed.
Lozar said that after Gross threatened the man for payment via texts and phone calls, he then proceeded to his home and fired a gun into the house where the man and his 55-year-old mother were sleeping.
Arguing for a 12-year prison term, Lozar said Gross had reacted to being "shorted a small amount of cash with a large amount of violence" and called him "dangerous" and his behavior "scary."
Gross’ attorney, Steve Sarm, acknowledged his client’s "exceptionally stupid behavior" but said Gross has learned a great deal since being jailed in February, takes responsibility for his crime and shows great rehabilitative potential. He asked for a sentence closer to the minimum of four years.
Gross apologized to Difanis and said he was grateful to God that no one was injured by him "acting like a child." The former Chicago man said he wanted to be a part of his young child’s life.
Although Difanis praised Gross for using his time in jail productively, he said given Gross’ previous adult convictions — robbery, controlled substance violations, gang activity and obstructing justice — and the seriousness of the crime, he felt a lengthy term was necessary to punish him and send a message to others who are considering similar behavior.