DANVILLE — Jerome Harris yawned, rolled his eyes, and even laughed in a Vermilion County courtroom Monday as relatives of three people he was convicted of murdering described what their lives have been like without their loved ones.
Just before sentencing the 29-year-old Danville man to life in prison, Circuit Court Judge Nancy Fahey told Harris that his crime was horrific but just as despicable was the fact that he showed absolutely no remorse as he was listening to relatives of the victims.
"There is absolutely no excuse," Fahey said, referring to the March 25, 2007, shooting deaths of Rodney "Face" Pepper, 30; Ta'Breyon "TuTu" McCullough, 21; and Madisen Leverenz, 19. "It is absolutely despicable, and the sentences are so appropriate."
It's been seven years and four months since Pepper, McCullough and Leverenz were gunned down in an East Main Street apartment in a drug dealer's attempt to recover stolen drugs.
Mac Leverenz, the father of Ms. Leverenz, told Harris that even after seven years their family is still devastated and will be forever.
"The pain is still there," he said, facing Harris from the witness stand, describing how his wife, Candace Leverenz, still cries. But the worst part, Leverenz said, is that his granddaughter, Alaya, 8, will never know her mother (Ms. Leverenz).
It was April 29 when a Vermilion County jury of three men and nine women found Harris guilty of first-degree murder and of personally discharging a gun in the deaths of the two women. By state law, that made Harris, who's already serving a 25-year term in the Illinois Department of Corrections for multiple drug convictions, eligible for a mandatory life sentence in prison.
Leverenz said his biggest regret is that there's no death penalty in Illinois.
"You really need to die for what you did," Leverenz said.
Bonne Derrickson-Beecher, the grandmother of McCullough, said Harris should be treated like a rabid dog and put down, but since there's no death penalty, the judge should make sure he's caged forever.
Gina McGuire, a cousin to Ms. McCullough, read a letter from her mother Monica McCullough. In the letter, McCullough said she's outraged, heartbroken and devastated.
"Mr. Harris, I'm not sure you realize the impact of your actions," McCullough said in the letter. "I no longer have my baby girl. She may not have meant much to you, but she was the world to me. ... I want you to know that because of your actions, my heart will never heal."
After hearing the emotional testimony from the four relatives of the two female victims, Fahey called Harris to stand before her for sentencing. At the front of the courtroom, Harris accepted his opportunity to speak and asked if he could turn and face the audience, which was standing room only.
"I didn't have nothing to do with happened," said Harris, who rambled on, mentioning people, some in the audience, whom he told that he had nothing to do with what happened but offering no apology or words of remorse. "That's all I got to say."
Harris is the second man convicted in the triple homicide.
The first was Freddell L. "Freddy Moe" Bryant of Chicago, who was convicted in December 2012 in U.S. District Court in Urbana on three counts of using a firearm during a drug-trafficking crime and causing the death of all three victims. Bryant is serving three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole in a federal prison in Florida.
Bryant, according to testimony in Harris' trial, was a drug dealer and general in the Black P. Stone Nation gang, and the chain of events leading up to the triple homicide, began when Bryant gave Ms. McCullough two bricks of cocaine worth $50,000 to hold for safe keeping.
The next day, Ms. Leverenz, Ms. McCullough's friend, and Mr. Pepper, a drug dealer, took the drugs and hid them at Mr. Pepper's apartment at 1707 E. Main St. Shane Savage, Ms. Leverenz's boyfriend, took a kilo of the stolen cocaine, sold half of it and went to Champaign. Bryant and Harris came looking for the drugs, confronted Pepper, McCullough and Leverenz in the East Main Street apartment, and the morning of March 25, 2007, shot the two girls on the back porch and Mr. Pepper as he jumped through a front window of the apartment, trying to escape.