Jury hears statement from accused after killings
URBANA — Almost three years after a triple homicide in Danville, Freddell L. Bryant, a drug dealer and general in the Black P. Stones gang, told police that he shot all three victims during an attempt to recover thousands of dollars worth of drugs that were stolen from him.
In a videotaped statement taken on Jan. 14, 2010, in the Dewitt County Jail, Bryant, 34, of Chicago, told Sgt. Josh Campbell and Detective Phil Wilson of the Danville Police Department that he had not planned to kill 21-year-old TaBreyon McCullough, who was his girlfriend; her friend, 19-year-old Madisen Leverenz; or 30-year-old Rodney "Face" Pepper, a friend of Ms. Leverenz's boyfriend, at an apartment at 1707 E. Main St. in Danville on the morning of March 25, 2007.
"The plan was to get ours back and resolve things peacefully," said Bryant, also known as Freddy Moe. "The whole thing happened when Face ran."
The taped statement was played before a jury on the second day of Bryant's murder trial in U.S. District Court in Urbana. The trial is expected to go into next week.
Bryant, who is serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison for a drug conviction, was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 13, 2011, in connection with the deaths of Ms. McCullough, Ms. Leverenz and Mr. Pepper, all of whom were from Danville.
On March 25, 2011, a Vermilion County jury indicted Jerome J. Harris, 28, of Danville and David L. Moore, 38, of Chicago, each on 15 counts of first-degree murder in connection with the triple homicide. However, in November 2011, all charges against Moore were dropped based on authorities' belief that he was an accomplice but not directly involved in the shootings.
Federal prosecutors allege that Bryant and others conspired to sell cocaine and crack in Vermilion County from October 2003 through March 2007 and used others to do so and rent apartments to store and distribute the drugs, firearms, cash and other "tools of the trade." According to the indictment, on March 24, 2007, Bryant used Ms. McCullough to hold cocaine at her house and learned some of it had been taken. The next day, he and others took Ms. McCullough to the Main Street apartment to confront Ms. Leverenz and Mr. Pepper, whom Bryant believed were involved in taking the drugs.
The rest of the indictment alleges that Bryant "intentionally killed" Mr. Pepper, whose body was found in the middle of Main Street. With respect to Ms. Leverenz and Ms. McCullough, whose bodies were found inside the apartment, Bryant "intentionally participated in an act, contemplating that the life of (Pepper, Leverenz and McCullough) would be taken and intending that lethal force would be used in connection with them."
Danville detectives interviewed Bryant after the U.S. attorney's office and Bryant's attorneys, John Gray Noll and Daniel Noll of Springfield, made an agreement in which Bryant agreed to provide information and testify against other defendants.
In the videotape, Bryant, who has a severe stutter, told police that the night before the shootings, Ms. McCullough told him that Shane "Sugar Shane" Savage and Ms. Leverenz, Savage's girlfriend, took the drugs and money, so he and his brother, who has since died, began looking for them. When Ms. Leverenz was located at the Main Street apartment, he went there with Ms. McCullough and a man named Mike, who worked for his brother.
Bryant said when Ms. McCullough knocked on the back door, Ms. Leverenz opened it and was holding a gun. He took it from her and gave it to Mike. He and Ms. McCullough entered the apartment, but Mike stayed outside.
At some point, Mr. Pepper arrived, Bryant said. Earlier, Daylia Warner, who was Mr. Pepper's girlfriend, testified that the couple rented the apartment and lived there with her 3-year-old daughter.
After much probing by police, Bryant said that he had been questioning Ms. Leverenz and Mr. Pepper as to where his drugs and money were. Then Mr. Pepper "hopped up" and ran from the back porch, through a kitchen, dining room and living room. Bryant said Mike shot at Mr. Pepper with the gun that had been taken from Ms. Leverenz but it jammed.
Then Bryant, who was carrying two .45-caliber guns, chased Mr. Pepper through the house and shot at him after he ran though a glass window and out into Main Street. He told police he later went back to the porch, where the two women were sitting on the floor, and shot them.
While police said they believed much of Bryant's statement, they said they also believed there was someone else involved. They also asked him to provide more information about Mike, who might be able to corroborate his story. But aside from describing him as an African-American male around 30 years old, whom his brother met in jail and who lived on Saginaw Street in Chicago at the time, Bryant said he didn't know anything else about him.
Warner also testified that on the day before the shootings, she and Mr. Pepper, who she knew sold drugs with Savage, were house-sitting for her mother. That night, Mr. Pepper arrived with Savage and Ms. Leverenz and asked if they could stay the night.
"He told me they had just stole some drugs and needed to be out of sight for a while," Warner told Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller. She later said that her boyfriend told her they went to Ms. McCullough's house, lifted Ms. Leverenz though a window, and left with 4 to 6 kilograms of powder cocaine.
Warner, who was six months pregnant at the time with Mr. Pepper's child, said she didn't allow the other couple to stay so her boyfriend took Ms. Leverenz to their apartment. "I don't know where Shane went," she said.
Around 4 a.m., Ms. Leverenz called her cellphone to say she was looking for Savage and that someone was knocking on the front door, Warner said. She said Mr. Pepper told her not to answer it. He left around 10 a.m. to go to the apartment on his way to visit family in Chicago. That was the last time she saw him alive.