A Michigan man who killed at age 11 and has been in confinement for half his life avoided more time inside Tuesday when a judge ordered him to serve probation in an attack on a prison guard.

Nathaniel Abraham, 26, who already is serving a four-to-20-year sentence for drug possession, could be released as early as August, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Abraham pleaded guilty May 1 to assault of a prison employee, a charge that could have earned him years more in prison. Lenawee County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Pickard instead sentenced the former Pontiac resident to five years of probation and fines in the assault on a guard at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in late 2010.

"He's a good person" who is "grateful" for the judge's decision, Abraham's lawyer, Sharon Clark Woodside, said outside of court.

During the brief hearing — which was held in a nearly empty courtroom, save for lawyers and court personnel — Pickard asked if Abraham wished to speak ahead of sentencing.

"I take full responsibility," Abraham responded.

The scene was a far cry from the day in January 2007 when Abraham, who had just turned 21, was released from state supervision nine years after he made national headlines for fatally shooting Ronnie Greene, 18, of Pontiac with a stolen rifle. He flashed a bright smile and wore a flamboyant cream pinstripe suit, red shoes and a fedora.

A year-and-a-half later, undercover officers in Abraham's hometown said they caught him with 254 Ecstasy pills at a gas station. He pleaded guilty in November 2008 to possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.

"I'm not saying I'll never make a mistake again," Abraham told the judge who sentenced him in the drug case. "Given the opportunity, I know within myself that I can be a success to the community."

On Tuesday, Woodside, standing beside a shackled and prison jumpsuit-wearing Abraham, told Pickard her client "had somewhat of a difficult start to his life," but that "he is a very intelligent person" capable of contributing positively to society.

"I know he can be rehabilitated," she said.

The judge, at least, seemed willing to give him the chance to prove it.

Asked later why she believed Abraham would find success on the outside, Woodside said simply: "He loves freedom."

Richard Broughton, assistant professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, said Abraham faces an uphill climb.

"He will have to take advantage of any opportunities he is given to prove that he is productive, reliable and trustworthy," Broughton said. "Getting those opportunities may be difficult, though, because others may fear that his history of criminality — including a substantial history of violence — makes him a bad risk or a danger to others."

Ultimately, many factors will affect how well Abraham fares upon release, Broughton said, including "whether he obtains further education, whether he has steady employment, whether he has good people around him as a support system and whether he is regularly exposed to violence or other criminality."

"He will have to learn to adjust to a life in which he is not only responsible for himself, but in which he will have very little room for making mistakes. Otherwise he risks being sent back to prison," Broughton said.