Christopher Harrison was sentenced to 31 years in prison on Thursday for second-degree murder related to a drug-related dispute that ended in a hail of bullets and the deaths of two young men.
Harrison, now 20, was 17 when he was charged in April 2018 with murder in the deaths of Reggie Hart Jr., 19, and Joseph Gardner, 20. The victims had known each other since childhood and had been feuding with Harrison for about a week before the incident, according to acquaintances of the three men.
In June, a jury rejected first-degree murder charges against Harrison, who claimed self-defense in the shooting. Harrison faced up to 40 years in prison, based on a ruling by Judge Casey Costigan that Harrison would be sentenced as an adult. He is eligible for day-for-day credit.
Prosecutor Jeff Horve repeated earlier claims by the state that Harrison was a drug dealer who loved to show off his drugs, money and guns on social media. The state displayed a series of text messages exchanged three days before the killings between Harrison and Gardner in which Harrison offered to provide the victim with guns.
Gardner and Hart planned to rob Harrison, according to police.
More than 20 rounds were fired into the victim’s bodies by Harrison, who was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle, according to police. Hart and Gardner were found at the bottom of a staircase just inside the entryway of an apartment building at the Lancaster Heights complex in Normal. The men had been shot in their backs, police said.
With new jobs in their futures, Gardner and Hart were “clearly at a crossroads in their lives,” but both “made bad choices,” said Horve in his argument for a total of 40 years on the murder, drugs and weapons charges.
Gardner and his girlfriend were expecting a baby.
Harrison “took matters into his own hands and acted as jury, jury and executioner” of the victims, said Horve.
Defense lawyer Kevin Sanborn sought a sentence of 12 years on all counts, citing Harrison’s young age and a history of drug use dating back to age 7 when Harrison's father started him on marijuana.
The state painted an incomplete picture of the defendant, said Sanborn.
“All they see is guns, drugs and money. There's more to Chris than that,” said Sanborn.
In his brief remarks to the judge, Harrison said, “I take full responsibility for my action.”
Harrison said he fired the gun “to protect myself and my family.”
In his comments to Harrison explaining the sentence, Costigan said the defendant's age at the time of the offense “is probably the thing you have going for you" in terms of mitigating factors.
The two men were killed “in a very brutal fashion,” said Costigan.
The incident could have ended differently, the judge told Harrison.
“There were multiple opportunities to walk away and it didn't happen. They were on their way out the door when the shooting took place,” the judge noted.
After the hearing, Sanborn said, "Chris had taken responsibility in this case, even though he acknowledged his mistake. It is sad to see three young men’s lives destroyed because of what happened that night.”
Sanborn said an appeal will be filed.
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