- The shooter in the MSU attack was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor gun charge in 2019
- A felony would have barred him from possessing a weapon
- Former prosecutor says plea bargains occur in ‘95 percent’ of criminal cases
LANSING —A former prosecutor whose office dropped a felony charge against the Michigan State University gunman that would have barred him from legally owning a gun says such plea deals are “standard” practice.
“When something awful like this occurs, it is natural to revisit the past, but oftentimes the decisions would be the same,” former Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon told Bridge Michigan in an email.
Some on social media have second-guessed the decision to drop a felony firearms case against Anthony McRae of Lansing in 2019 in exchange for a misdemeanor.
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Had he been convicted of a felony, McRae would have been barred from possessing a gun, and police say the 43-year-old killed three students and injured five others Monday before killing himself.
Years before the shooting, McRae had a litany of mental health issues, gun problems and run-ins with law enforcement, according to court documents, police releases, McRae’s family members and neighbors.
In June 2019, McRae was arrested for carrying a gun without a concealed pistol license.
Court records and body camera footage from the arrest obtained by Bridge Michigan show McRae sitting and smoking on the back step of an abandoned building when approached by a police officer.
In the footage, McRae acknowledged having a .380 semi-automatic pistol in his left pocket, telling the officer it was for “protection.”
McRae was initially charged with a felony of concealed carry without a permit, but prosecutors eventually dismissed the charge and agreed to let McRae plead to a lesser charge — a misdemeanor of carrying a loaded firearm “in or upon a vehicle.”
He was put on probation in 2019 and was discharged in 2021.
While not specifically commenting on the McRae case, Siemon told Bridge that such a plea deal “comports with Michigan’s practices and sentencing guidelines.”
“Nationally, about 95 percent of all criminal charges are resolved by pleas,” wrote Siemon, who was prosecutor from 2017 to 2022.
“With the thousands of cases handled yearly, no prosecutor, except in a one prosecutor office, could be involved in all of them.”
It is standard practice for a first time offender to plead to a misdemeanor charge and probation, Siemon said.
“Most people charged with theft don’t go on to commit more serious crimes and most people charged with carrying a weapon don’t go on to commit murder,” she said.
In 2021, Siemon established a policy to limit the use of felony firearm charges, which are supplemental charges added onto other felonies, because she said such charges disproportionately affected Black residents.
Before that, Siemon said she did not have “explicit policy” but wanted prosecutors to “try to make charges and plea bargains proportional to the behavior in the individual case instead of a zero-tolerance or a bright line policy.”
Jacob Sartz, a public defender who represented McRae, declined to comment Wednesday.
Ingham County Chief Public Defender Keith Watson could not be reached for comment.
The plea deal and Siemon’s 2021 policy drew politicized criticism after Monday’s shooting. Simeon is a Democrat.
“Democrats are responsible for the MSU shooting,” Republican strategist Dennis Lennox said on Twitter.
House Rep. Phil Green, R-Millington, told Michigan Information & Research Service that McRae would have been in prison today if he had served the maximum penalty allowed for a felony.
The shooting also sparked a wave of gun reform discussions.
Michigan Democrats, who are the new majority in the state Legislature and have championed tightened gun regulations for years, pledged to fast-track gun reform legislation at a press conference Tuesday. They have said they hope to prioritize safe storage, universal background checks and “red flag” laws, which would have allowed law enforcement to confiscate guns from those posing a danger to themselves or others.
Republicans, on the other hand, have urged investments in mental health services but expressed reluctance on gun restrictions.