URBANA — Nearly six years after three Danville residents were gunned down on the city's east side, a Chicago man was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison for their murders.
U.S. District Judge Michael McCuskey also ordered that 34-year-old Freddell L. Bryant, also known as "Freddy Moe," begin serving the back-to-back life terms after the 25-year term he's currently serving in federal prison for the underlying cocaine and crack cocaine distribution conspiracy convictions.
It was the maximum sentence that Bryant could receive under the law.
"We were so happy," said Candace Leverenz, mother of the youngest victim, 19-year-old Madisen Leverenz. "I feel like Maddy definitely got justice."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller, who prosecuted the case along with Jason Bohm of the U.S. attorney's office for the Central District of Illinois, said he was pleased the court imposed the maximum sentence, as they requested.
"We believe it was not only justified but also the only reasonable sentence under the circumstances," Miller said, adding the successful prosecution was the result of the efforts of the Drug Enforcement Agency and Danville and Illinois State Police.
Miller said McCuskey told Bryant he saw no remorse from him, and he accused Bryant of trying to intimidate the Leverenz family and him by glaring at them across the courtroom.
On Dec. 10 in federal court in Urbana, Bryant — an admitted drug dealer and "general" in the Black P. Stones gang — was convicted of three counts of using a gun in a drug-trafficking crime that led to the deaths of Ms. Leverenz, 21-year-old TaBreyon McCullough and 30-year-old Rodney Pepper, all of Danville.
Mid-morning on March 25, 2007, Mr. Pepper's body was found lying in the street in front of an apartment building at 1707 E. Main St. The women's bodies soon were discovered inside one of the apartments.
During Bryant's trial in early December, prosecutors presented evidence to show that Bryant ran an extensive drug operation in Danville, and he was retaliating for the theft of multiple kilograms of cocaine that he had Ms. McCullough, his girlfriend, keep at her house.
On the day of the murders, Bryant and fellow Black P. Stone gang members took Ms. McCullough to the Main Street apartment to confront Ms. Leverenz and Mr. Pepper, whom Bryant believed took $50,000 in cocaine. During the confrontation, Mr. Pepper tried to escape by jumping through a front window, but Bryant chased after him and shot him in the back, while an accomplice — Jerome J. Harris, 28, of Danville — shot Ms. Leverenz and Ms. McCullough inside the apartment.
Harris' murder case is pending in Vermilion County Circuit Court in Danville.
Bryant's defense attorneys — Jon Noll and Daniel Noll of Springfield — unsuccessfully argued that their client was in Chicago too close to the time that the murders happened.
Before Thursday's sentencing, the judge, along with family and friends of the victims who packed the courtroom, heard victim-impact statements from Ms. McCullough's aunt and Ms. Leverenz's father, Mac Leverenz, and sister, Liya Hussman-Rogers.
Mac Leverenz talked about how his wife has cried every day since their daughter's murder, and how Ms. Leverenz's young daughter, Alaya, will never get to know her mother.
Hussman-Rogers talked about how she took her sister, who was 13 years her junior, everywhere with her including dates and college events. She also talked about her niece, who though seemingly resilient, still carries the loneliness of growing up without her mother.
Candace Leverenz praised the prosecutors and judge for their efforts. "They were so thorough and professional, and they went after it with their whole heart," she said.
In March 2009, Bryant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in Vermilion County from October 2003 to March 2007. He was sentenced to the 25-year federal prison term on April 29, 2010 and has remained behind bars since then.