GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A 2019 plea deal in a felony weapons arrest preserved Anthony McRae’s right to possess firearms, prosecutors say.
McRae, 43, of Lansing, shot and killed three students and injured five others Monday in a deadly rampage on the Michigan State University campus. Police confirmed Wednesday morning that he was carrying two handguns, both bought legally but not registered.
Three and a half years earlier, a Lansing police officer arrested McRae for carrying a concealed weapon, a felony. On June 7, 2019, a Lansing police officer was on patrol in the 2600 block of N. East Street north of Lake Lansing Road due to recent burglaries. Around 2 a.m., he spotted McRae sitting on the steps of an abandoned building smoking a cigarette, according to the police report.
“Again, we were directed by our command officers to patrol that area,” Officer James Zolnai reported, testifying at McRae’s preliminary examination. “I made contact with McRae, identified myself as a police officer. My initial question for him was whether or not he worked in the area. Maybe he was having a smoke break or something. I wanted to make sure he had reason to be on that property. As I got closer to him, from my training and experience, subjects that are in those area(s), if they’re committing burglaries, often times they carry weapons.”
Zolnai said he asked McRae if he was “in possession of any weapon.”
“(McRae) paused. He didn’t answer me at first, and then I asked him again, and he advised that he was.”
Zolnai said he discovered a loaded Ruger LCP .380 semi-automatic in McRae’s coat pocket. He had an additional magazine for the weapon in his breast pocket.
Zolnai testified McRae told him he was carrying the weapon for protection but acknowledged he did not have the required concealed pistol license.
The officer arrested McRae for carrying a concealed weapon, a felony that would normally bar an individual from possessing a firearm. But court records show McRae ultimately pleaded guilty to possession of a loaded firearm on or upon a vehicle.
“My understanding is that in that case, a motion was made by the defense and then before that motion was pushed through to a decision that the then-prosecutor of Ingham County chose to drop that (CCW) charge and negotiate down to a lesser crime which gave him (McRae) no jail time, no felony charge to prohibit him from buying additional weapons in the future and a year of probation,” Lansing Police Department Chief Ellery Sosebee said at a Wednesday morning news conference at MSU.
News 8 reached out to the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan regarding the plea deal’s impact on McRae’s ability to possess a firearm.
“We have looked into your questions, and Michigan law is quite nuanced on the topics at hand, with numerous variables that make it difficult to provide a direct yes or no,” John Perry of PAAM wrote in an email to News 8.
News 8 then reached out to individual prosecutors, including the office of Kalamazoo County prosecutor Jeff Getting. Getting’s chief assistant prosecutor, Jeff Williams, researched the charge to which McRae pleaded guilty and determined it did not preclude him from possessing a firearm. That’s even though, according to Williams, the possession charge is still considered a felony.
“The charge to which (McRae) pled is a felony punishable by two years,” Williams wrote in an email. “A 2014 amendment to the Felon in Possession of Firearm statute says a conviction must be punishable by 4 years, or more, to make a person ineligible to possess a firearm. In short, someone who pled guilty to Possessing a Loaded Firearm in a Vehicle can legally possess a firearm.”
McRae’s plea deal happened during the tenure of former Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon. Siemon did not immediately response to News 8’s request for comment.
“We would all hope that a prosecutor would uphold the law as it’s written. There’s always room for some type of discretion, however, that one will be scrutinized for a long time, I’m sure,” Sosebee said.
But Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said such plea deals are appropriate under the circumstances. Becker confirmed the original felony CCW charge would have precluded McRae from legally possessing a firearm.
“Key word ‘legally,'” wrote Becker in an email to News 8.
“So, a guy bent on doing something like that isn’t going to find a way to get a gun illegally?” Becker questioned. “You know how many of our homicides in Kent are done with a gun not obtained legally?”
Becker also explained McRae’s sentence — probation and forfeiture of the gun — would have been the same under the felony CCW charge.
“As for perspective, even if he were not offered a plea deal and was convicted of the CCW that he was charged with, he would have gotten the exact same sentence. The sentencing guidelines for CCW, passed by the legislature, call for a sentencing range of 0-3 months for a person with a limited criminal history under that charge. 0-3 months means that he should not be sent to prison, at best three months in jail.
However, Becker said such cases usually garner probationary sentences only.
“So, dealing with the caseloads we all face, a plea offer of transport of loaded firearm gets you to the same place you are going anyway, a probationary sentence with the gun being forfeited,” Becker wrote.
Lansing police told News 8 the department still has possession of the gun from McRae’s 2019 arrest.