SYCAMORE – Carl Russell showed no emotion as Judge Phillip Montgomery sentenced him to 45 years in prison for the 2017 attempted murder of Eric Peterson.
The sentence came after an afternoon of emotional statements from Peterson’s family and the submission of letters from friends and family of Russell.
Kelly Blum, Peterson’s mother, said that while Peterson, 25, survived the shooting July 2, 2017, the person she knew before was no longer there. She described him as a loving, kind-hearted person to be around. After the shooting, he’s not as vibrant, she said.
“He just doesn’t have that same spark,” Blum told Montgomery.
Russell, 45, of Sandwich, shot Peterson in the face in the driveway of Russell’s home in the 1100 block of Lillian Lane. Peterson had gone to the home adjacent to Russell’s earlier in the day to help friends move into their new home. Also there was his girlfriend, Lorena Melendez, and his then-4-month-old daughter.
Witnesses testified during the trial that Russell had initially come over to introduce himself and the group was friendly. However, as the night progressed, witnesses said Russell made inappropriate comments to Melendez.
Melendez testified that Russell said to Peterson, “You don’t know the nasty things I would do to her if you weren’t here.” Peterson laughed, but Melendez wasn’t happy, and the couple quarreled.
Peterson later went over to Russell’s garage next door and was shot in the driveway. Witnesses said they first thought the sound of the gunshot was a firework.
Investigators testified that Peterson lost about half of his skull and most of the right side of his brain. Peterson’s DNA was found on the barrel of Russell’s gun during the investigation, and pieces of bone and tissue were found scattered across the driveway and on cars parked nearby.
Blum, in her statement Friday, detailed the time she spent in the hospital with Peterson, the multiple surgeries he had, including one where the prosthetic skull that replaced the areas shattered by the bullet became infected and had to be replaced.
In the days leading up to the shooting, Blum said she had never seen Peterson so happy and proud.
“He was so looking forward to being a dad,” she said. Now, Peterson, paralyzed on his left side and left with cognitive difficulties because of the shooting, can’t pick up his daughter or carry her around. “All that’s been taken from her,” Blum said.
Court records show Russell admitted to police that night he was the shooter and told officers that he shot Peterson with a 9mm Glock 17 pistol. A bullet was found in the side of a home across the street with DNA that matched Peterson’s.
Peterson’s father, Reid Irving, gave a statement to the court. He described finding out his son was shot and seeing Peterson in the hospital bed.
“When I got to his room, I died inside,” Irving said. He said Peterson was lying lifeless in bed, his head wrapped in bandages.
“Eric was loved by so many,” he said. “I say ‘was’ because the Eric that we knew and loved is gone – 23 years old – his hopes and dreams wiped out.”
Peterson’s sisters, Abbey and Lilly Blum, each made statements. Abbey has become Peterson’s full-time caretaker. Lilly has been in counseling because of the shooting.
Peterson also made a statement to the court. He told of his multiple surgeries, months in the hospital and lengthy rehabilitation, how his family has had to go to counseling and how he has no personal freedom anymore because he needs assistance to get up in bed or move around because of his injuries. But his ultimate focus isn’t on himself.
“I am mostly sad for my daughter, Aria, because she will never know the old me,” Peterson said when he read from a statement. He spoke in a monotone, which his mother said is a result of his injuries. “She got robbed of a regular dad.”
Russell faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. Prosecutors asked for 50 years. Russell’s lawyers asked for the minimum sentence of 31 years.
Montgomery read from the pre-sentencing report, where in an interview Russell said he felt he was “railroaded.”
“Make no mistake, you were not railroaded,” Montgomery said. “No matter what happens the rest of your life, you will walk out of this courtroom.”
Just before he read the sentence that could keep Russell in prison until he is about 90 years old, Montgomery addressed Peterson, saying that he hoped he can assure Peterson that the court and society takes these crimes seriously, but he acknowledged the limitations.
“Nothing I say in the next two minutes will change your life,” Montgomery said. “I can’t make you whole again.”
Kelly Blum said she was satisfied with the sentence.
“He’ll probably spend the rest of his life in prison,” Blum said. “Eric got a life sentence, so did he.”
First Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Klein said that the prosecutors appreciate and respect the judge’s sentence and appreciate and respect the time and attention given by the jurors who served in the case.
Russell has 30 days to file an appeal.