Michael served a 15-year prison sentence for possessing a firearm as a felon, even though he was simply transporting his late mother’s shotgun and pistol to his aunt’s house when he was arrested. He was released in 2015.
Michael lived with his father in Lee County, Virginia until the age of 12. His father was a drug addict and unable to care for him. Michael was soon placed in foster care. Michael began using marijuana when he was seven and was drinking by age 12. When he was 14, Michael’s aunt Peggy adopted him.
The majority of Michael’s run-ins with the law occurred from late February to early April of 1998. Addicted to pills, Michael and a friend broke into several local high schools at night to steal pill prescriptions. Michael also stole $20 from a car wash and damaged three towel holders and soft drink machines. Eighteen at the time, Michael served about a year in jail. In 2001, he was charged with reckless driving charge for causing his car to slide around a parking lot.
After his release from jail in 1998, Michael worked to stay sober. Unfortunately, he turned back to pills after his mother was killed by a drunk driver. Despite his legal and personal troubles, Michael maintained regular employment from the time he was 16. He also helped care for his Aunt Peggy and his father, both disabled veterans.
In July 2001, several weeks after his mother was killed, Michael and his family went to collect her belongings from her home. His mother’s boyfriend presented Michael with a shotgun and told him, that as the eldest son, his mother would’ve wanted Michael to have it. Michael knew that since he had been convicted of a felony, he was not allowed to possess firearms. He and the rest of the family agreed that his aunt Peggy, a retired Marine and Army officer, should keep the guns in her antique weapons collection.
Taking every precaution to avoid Michael coming into contact with the weapon, the shotgun was put in a family member’s vehicle while Michael drove back from the house in a separate car. Michael returned to his grandmother’s house and began to unpack his mother’s belongings. He found a .38-caliber pistol in her dresser and placed it back after reporting his discovery to the rest of his family.
Michael then called his girlfriend, Annie*, who agreed to drive the shotgun and the pistol to Aunt Peggy’s house. On their way, Annie stopped at her friend’s residence. Michael and Annie entered the residence and begin talking with her friend and her boyfriend, David*. Unbeknownst to Michael, David was under police surveillance for suspected drug activity. Michael mentioned that they were bringing his mother’s heirloom guns to his aunt’s residence. David asked to see the pistol and Annie retrieved it from her car. David expressed interest in buying the gun and Michael declined. Suddenly, police burst into the residence with a search warrant. Michael immediately informed officers that the pistol was present and that he was a convicted felon.
Michael pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Although the probation officer recommended that Michael receive a higher sentence due to his prior record, both the judge and prosecutor departed from the suggestion, agreeing that Michael had accepted responsibility and a sentence decrease was appropriate. Michael’s judge sentenced to the shortest term possible under the Armed Career Criminal Act, 15 years mandatory minimum.
Since his incarceration, many of Michael’s family members have passed away, including his Aunt Peggy and both of his grandmothers. Michael’s father is battling cancer and is in hospice care. Michael has a six-year-old daughter who was born right after he was imprisoned. Despite these overwhelming setbacks, Michael remains productive, sober and committed to changing his life.
The Facts: Michael Brandon Shuler
Sentence: 15 years
Offense: Felon in possession of a firearm
Year sentenced: 2002
Age at sentencing: 23
Projected release date: Jan. 26, 2015
Priors: Illegal possession of an alcoholic beverage (1991), Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle (1996); Grand larceny; Possession with intent to sell Ritalin; Destroy property (1998); Breaking & entering (1991, 1998); nine counts of driving while license suspended (1999-2001); Reckless driving (1997, 2001).
Nature of priors: At age 11, Michael brought a bottle from his father’s liquor cabinet to school to impress his classmates. Later that year, he broke into a neighborhood friend’s house and found a .22 caliber pistol. Michael took the gun out of the house to bring home to show his friends, and when he went back to return the weapon, the neighbors had come home. Michael admitted to police what he had done.