Witness testifies to hearing arguing, then shots

Witness testifies to hearing arguing, then shots

She also confirms picking defendant from photo lineup

DANVILLE — On the morning that three Danville residents were gunned down in an apartment on the city's east side, a young woman in an adjacent apartment heard people arguing, then four shots from next door.

Ashley Brown testified in Vermilion County Circuit Court on Thursday that she heard those sounds as she got ready for church the same day that Ta'Breyon "TuTu" McCullough, 21, and Madisen Leverenz, 19, were found shot to death in the next apartment. A third victim, Rodney "Face" Pepper, 30, was found lying in the middle of East Main Street, in front of the apartment building, with his own fatal gunshot wound.

Brown, 27, of Danville also acknowledged that during a police interview a few months after the murders, she identified Jerome Harris in a photo lineup as the man she saw leaving the scene after the gunshots and also wrote his nickname, "Bino," next to his picture.

Brown was one of eight prosecution witnesses who testified on the third day of Harris' jury trial.

Harris, 29, of Danville faces 15 counts of first-degree murder in the 2007 deaths of Ms. McCullough, Ms. Leverenz and Mr. Pepper.

In December 2012, Freddell L. "Freddy Moe" Bryant, of Chicago, was convicted in U.S. District Court in Urbana of three counts of using a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime and causing the death of all three victims.

He is serving three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole in a federal prison in Florida.

Harris is  serving 25 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections on multiple drug convictions. If convicted of the murders, he could receive a mandatory life sentence.

The trial continues Friday and is expected to go into next week.

Brown, who was declared a hostile witness because of her reluctance to answer questions, said she was living in a duplex at 1707 E. Main St. with her mom, sister and uncle in March 2007. Under questioning by Assistant State's Attorney Sandy Lawlyes, Brown said that on the day before the murders, she locked herself out of her home. So she went next door and used the phone of the neighbor she knew as "Face" (Rodney Pepper) to call her mom.

While there, she saw Ms. Leverenz, with whom she had gone to school.

The next morning, Brown said she was getting ready for church when she heard two males and two females arguing.

"Some stuff was missing," she recalled of the conversation.

Then Brown heard four gun shots and later a female crying. When she looked out her bedroom window, she saw a man going up the alley behind the apartment building. She later told police that man was Harris and that his was one of the voices she had heard through her apartment wall.

Under cross-examination by Assistant Public Defender Lindsay VanFleet, Brown denied telling an investigator for the defense in 2011 that her statement would be worth a lot of money. However, she did remember that she wouldn't answer any of his questions.

Also at the trial, Richard Bell, 49, of Chicago testified that when he was locked up at the Vermilion County jail in 2011, Harris — whom he had met in prison in 2005 — talked to him about the murders and placed himself and identified others at the scene. He also said that Harris asked him to get rid of a woman named Ashley and that some of "his people" could help him locate her.

"She was supposed to have seen him leaving the murder scene," Bell said.

Bell said that in August 2011 he wrote a letter to the Vermilion County State's Attorney's office about Harris' statements because it bothered him that the women were killed, and he wanted to "shed some light on what happened."

Bell acknowledged he later told police that Harris claimed he was outside of the apartment when he heard two shots. When he ran inside, a "general" in the Black P. Stones gang said he had shot a man, then told Harris to "take care of business."

But on the witness stand, Bell insisted, "He never told me he murdered no one. He said people were saying he shot the girl."

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