URBANA - It took the jury about three hours of deliberation in federal court Monday to find Freddell L. Bryant guilty of using a gun in a drug-trafficking crime that led to a triple homicide in Danville more than five years ago.
Soon after the verdict, Candace Leverenz of Danville, the mother of one of the victims, Madisen Leverenz, 19, said she and other family members were still in shock but happy with the verdict.
"We've been waiting for 51/2 years for someone to take responsibility," she said.
When he's sentenced on March 15, Bryant, 34, of Chicago, faces up to life in prison on each of the three counts for which he was convicted Monday at the federal courthouse in Urbana. The case began a week ago before U.S. District Judge Michael P. McCuskey and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Eugene Miller and Jason Bohm with the U.S. attorney's office for the Central District of Illinois.
Leverenz and the two other murder victims, Rodney Pepper, 30, and Tabreyon L. McCullough, 21, were all shot to death on March 25, 2007, on East Main Street in Danville.
According to the government's case, Bryant retaliated after the theft of multiple kilograms of cocaine that he had Ms. McCullough keep at her home in Danville.
Bryant was a "general" in the Black P. Stones gang and heavily involved in a large drug trade, according to the government. The day of the murders, Bryant and fellow gang members were on a mission to recover the stolen drugs and took Ms. McCullough to an apartment on East Main Street to confront Ms. Leverenz and Mr. Pepper, who Bryant believed were involved in taking the approximately $50,000 of cocaine. According to the government's case, Bryant ordered that there be no witnesses left, and during the confrontation, Mr. Pepper tried to escape, jumping through a window of the apartment. Bryant chased after and shot Mr. Pepper in the back as Jerome J. Harris, 28, of Danville, one of Bryant's accomplices, shot Ms. Leverenz and Ms. McCullough, who were still in the apartment, according to the government.
Prior to being charged in this case, Bryant had already been convicted and sentenced to 25 years in federal prison in a separate case involving a cocaine distribution conspiracy. The defense argued during closing statements Monday morning that Bryant was in Chicago the day of the triple homicide, and Bryant's taped statements to police investigators, detailing his role in the murders, was a fabrication, because the government was offering him a sentence reduction in trade for information about the killings.
During his testimony Friday, Bryant claimed he was in Chicago the day of the murders and presented a version of events different than his earlier taped statements to police. According to the defense, Bryant knew details of the crime only through fellow gang members who were there. But the prosecution argued during closing statements that Bryant's taped statement to police in 2010 was when he "came clean" for the most part and also the version that's corroborated by evidence, like Bryant's Boston Red Sox cap, which was found at the scene of the crime with his DNA on it.
Although members of the Leverenz family were pleased with Bryant's conviction, there's another case they are hoping is resolved soon.
Last year, a Vermilion County grand jury indicted Harris in connection with the triple homicide. He and David L. Moore, 38, of Chicago were each indicted on 15 counts of first-degree murder, but in November 2011, the Vermilion County state's attorney's office dropped all charges against Moore based on the authorities' belief that Moore was an accomplice but not directly involved in the shootings.
The charges against Harris remain, and he also has pending drug-related charges that are separate from the triple homicide and allegedly occurred after the murders, according to Vermilion County State's Attorney Randy Brinegar.
Brinegar said Monday that the drug cases and homicide case against Harris were set for trial earlier this month, but the defense asked for a continuance to January, and the court granted the additional time. If the defense is ready for trial next month, Brinegar said, he intends to prosecute some of the four drug cases against Harris before the triple homicide. He said he has reasons for doing that but would not disclose them.
Brinegar said he had an investigator from his office at the trial, and many of the same witnesses will be used in the case against Harris, but Bryant will not be one of them.