‘Low-keyed young man with a soft smile’ gets 12 years in federal prison for wild Uptown carjacking

Michael C. Pearson | CPD

A federal judge sentenced a 19-year-old man to 12 years in prison on Tuesday for a carjacking in which he allegedly fired a shot toward the victim at point-blank range as she hung out the rear door of the hijacked car, which was speeding down an Uptown street.

Acquaintances of Michael Pearson sent glowing letters to U.S. District Judge John Kness that were filled with fond memories of their interactions with Pearson.

A teacher at Perspectives IIT Math & Science Academy said Pearson was embarrassed about having to repeat the 9th grade due to low grades but said he was “heartfelt, honest, and considerate of everyone around him.”

“I find it impossible that the Michael I know well is the same one who committed these crimes,” the teacher wrote.

An office manager at the school wrote, “I know Michael to be a low-keyed young man with a soft smile which exemplifies good manners, respect, and a strong home training.” Pearson was the kind of kid who would stop by the office just to flash a smile, the office manager wrote.

But two women, roommates ages 26 and 27, saw a much different side of Michael Pearson on July 28, 2020.

That’s when he and two juveniles carjacked the women on the 800 block of West Windsor because they were tired of walking, Cook County prosecutors said last year.

The women were removing a dresser from the rear seat of a Buick Lucerne when one of the juveniles took the older woman’s keys at gunpoint and got into the driver’s seat. Meanwhile, the younger woman became stuck between the dresser, the passenger seat, and the rear seat as Pearson tried to pull her out, prosecutors said.

As the woman screamed that she was stuck, Pearson got into the front passenger seat, and the juvenile sped away with her hanging out of the rear door. The second juvenile walked away from the scene.

During a bond court hearing last July, local prosecutors described a chaotic scene as the trapped woman hung from the back passenger door, waving her arms as the car sped down the street, and Pearson pointed a gun at her head.

“He was trying to get her to jump out of a moving car at gunpoint while she was flailing,” Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said.

The woman reported feeling a “puff of air” pass her head as she held her eyes closed in prayer. The “puff of air” was a bullet from Pearson’s gun flying past her head, Murphy said. “All she could do is close her eyes and pray for her life as a bullet whizzed past her head.”

Police said the stolen car crashed into a parked vehicle near Hutchinson and Clarendon moments later. The impact of the collision threw the woman on top of Pearson, and the two became entangled while struggling for control of the handgun, Murphy said. Pearson eventually freed himself and ran from the scene with the gun.

Pearson told officers that he and the two minors pulled off the carjacking “because they didn’t want to walk anymore,” Murphy said. Pearson claimed that his firearm “just went off” during the episode.

Surveillance cameras recorded much of the initial carjacking as well as the struggle for control of the gun, according to Murphy.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago took the case to federal court a few weeks after state charges were filed.

Federal prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum this spring that Pearson faced anywhere from 10 years to life in prison on the carjacking and gun charges. Pearson “has clearly demonstrated a recognition and affirmative acceptance of personal responsibility for his criminal conduct,” the memo said.

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