URBANA — A Chicago man won't face the death penalty if he's convicted on federal murder charges stemming from a 2007 triple homicide in Danville.
Department of Justice officials concluded the United States will not seek the death penalty against Freddell L. "Freddy Moe" Bryant, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Urbana earlier this week.
Bryant's attorney, John Gray Noll of Springfield, said his client, who is incarcerated at the Macon County Jail in Decatur, was relieved by the decision. So was one of the victim's relatives.
"God has answered my prayers," said Monica McCullough, the mother of 21-year-old TaBreyon "TuTu" McCullough. "Even before I knew who (allegedly) did it, I did not want them to get the death penalty. I did not want another mother to go through what I went through."
Bryant's charges stem from the March 25, 2007, shooting deaths of Ms. McCullough, 19-year-old Madisen Leverenz and 30-year-old Rodney Pepper, all of Danville.
Bryant — 34, 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. His case is in federal court because federal prosecutors had a strong conspiracy case against him, officials said. A status hearing at the federal courthouse in Urbana is scheduled for June 1.
A second defendant — Jerome J. Harris, 27, of Danville — faces 15 counts of first-degree murder in Vermilion County Circuit Court in connection with the murders.
A status hearing at the Vermilion County Courthouse in Danville is scheduled for Friday.
In March 2011, a Vermilion County grand jury indicted a third man — David L. Moore, 37, of Chicago — with 15 counts of murder alongside Harris.
But in November, State's Attorney Randy Brinegar dropped the charges against Moore, saying he was an accomplice but not directly involved in the shootings.
The decision not to seek the death penalty came from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder based on a recommendation from a six-member panel of federal prosecutors. No rationale for the decision was given.
The panel heard presentations from Noll and Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller at a hearing in Washington in late January.
Sharon Paul, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, Central District of Illinois, declined to comment on Miller's presentation. citing confidentiality.
However, Noll said he spent about an hour before the panel, laying out his case for why Bryant should not get the death penalty.
"It was very candid and straightforward. They asked numerous questions. They could not have been more courteous or professional," Noll said, adding he and his team of two other attorneys and a mitigation expert took the matter "100 percent seriously" despite Holder's record of rarely authorizing the pursuit of the death penalty.
Noll said the panel also reviewed his brief outlining mitigating factors pertaining to the statute. Among them, he said, Harris and Moore, who still faced charges at the time, weren't eligible for the death penalty under Illinois law, and one victim was killed in "essentially a drug deal gone bad."
"One should never blame a decedent in this type of case, but there was some criminal culpability on one of the decedent's part," Noll said.
Noll also cited his client's disadvantaged background, lack of education and medical issues including a previous psychological evaluation.
Monica McCullough, who recently moved to Phoenix because "I needed a change," said she wrote a letter to the U.S. attorney's office asking that Bryant be spared the death penalty. But she only had his family in mind at the time.
"I do want him to spend the rest of his life in prison set aside from other human beings," she said, softly. "In my opinion, he had no regard for life."
In the federal indictment against Bryant, prosecutors allege he 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 documents, on March 24, 2007, Bryant used Ms. McCullough to hold cocaine at her Danville residence and learned some of it had been taken. The next day, he and others took Ms. McCullough to an apartment at 1707 E. Main St. in Danville to confront Ms. Leverenz and Mr. Pepper, who 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 1707 E. Main St. 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."