A Kernan man was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison for firing shots at his former boss and a companion, although neither was struck and injured.
When offered a chance to speak, 28-year-old Steven Shelly acknowledged that he had personal issues, including a drinking problem, that needed be overcome but pledged to comply fully with any conditions if given a break.
“Although I acted out of fear, there are a lot of things I’d have done differently,” Shelly said in La Salle County Circuit Court, reading from a prepared statement. “That being said, I take responsibility for what I did that night.”
Although Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. had the option of granting probation for Shelly’s most serious charge, aggravated discharge of a firearm, Ryan couldn’t get past Shelly’s problematic claim of self-defense or the fact the gun never was recovered. The judge also rejected a request for boot camp.
Shelly’s four-year term is subject to the state’s Truth in Sentencing Act, which requires certain felons to serve at least 85% of their prison time. He also has 11 1/2 months credit for time served awaiting trial.
At his July jury trial, Shelly acknowledged firing multiple shots outside his home on Feb. 5, 2021 — the shots were, in fact, recorded on his home surveillance — but said his former boss Ezariah Haydon and Haydon’s friend Chad Sibert surprised him when they drove up to his rural Streator home.
“I didn’t know why they were there,” Shelly testified. “I didn’t want them there.”
He added later, “I told them they needed to leave, and I walked away.”
Shelly was armed, however, and a struggle ensued to get the shotgun out of his hands. When the visitors wrested the shotgun, Shelly produced a handgun and fired four shots. There were no injuries.
But there were holes in Shelly’s story, and a jury rejected his self-defense claims.
Haydon testified that he was there solely to bring Shelly his final week’s pay, and Shelly had agreed to receive him in a call earlier that day. Shelly also testified that he was armed because he was about to go practice shooting, but this was at 9 p.m. on a freezing winter night. The practice area was in Shelly’s backyard, yet he exited through the front door. Shelly, according to testimony, exited his house in a rage.
At sentencing Thursday, defense lawyer Anthony Burch argued that the jury got it wrong and asked Ryan to consider limiting Shelly’s prison time to deal with his personal issues. Burch pointed out that no one was injured, and Shelly, who had no criminal history of note, was a reliable employee and family man who purchased a home at 28.
But Assistant La Salle County State’s Attorney Matt Kidder asked for seven years, citing not only the potential for death or major injury but also for Shelly’s enraged conduct in a domestic dispute, recorded by his then-girlfriend weeks before the shots were fired.
“This behavior is the rule, not the exception,” Kidder said. “I believe the defendant is a danger to society.”
Kidder further noted that Shelly underwent a risk assessment after the 2021 firearms incident and the results showed him at “extremely high risk” of reoffending.
Although Ryan considered and rejected Burch’s request for probation on the discharge count, Shelly was going to prison regardless. A lesser count of unlawful possession of a firearm with a revoked firearm owner’s identification card (which has a sentencing range of two to five years) carried a mandatory minimum, even if Ryan had opted for probation for Shelly’s pulling the trigger.
La Salle County State’s Attorney Joe Navarro said he was reasonably satisfied with Thursday’s outcome.
“Obviously, we felt seven years was appropriate, but we defer to the judge’s view of the factors in aggravation and mitigation,” Navarro said. “The sentence is subject to an 85% minimum, and we’ll live with that.”