The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

June 17, 2014

Triple homicide gunman gets life

Harris must serve entire sentence

The Commercial-News

---- — DANVILLE — Last-minute motion arguments by defense attorneys did not halt the sentencing Monday of the second gunman in Danville’s triple homicide.

Jerome Harris, 29, of Danville, appeared Monday afternoon in Vermilion County Circuit Court before Judge Nancy Fahey for sentencing in the 2007 shooting death of three people.

He was the final suspect charged in connection with the killings a little more than seven years ago. He faced 15 counts of first-degree murder — five counts per victim — in the triple homicide deaths of 30-year-old Rodney Pepper, 21-year-old TaBreyon McCullough and 19-year-old Madisen Leverenz.

Harris was charged with being the gunman who shot and killed McCullough and Leverenz.

The defense, led by Public Defender Jacqueline Lacy, filed motions in mid-May asking for an acquittal despite the verdict or, as an alternative, a new trial in the case. The motions were argued prior to sentencing Monday and both were denied.

Under the charges against him, it was mandatory that Harris receive life in the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Following Monday’s hearing, Vermilion County State’s Assistant State’s Attorney Chuck Mockbee said the sentencing was a formality, ordered by state law because more than one victim was killed in the shooting.

Harris must serve 100 percent of the life sentence, he added.

Three victim statements — two from the family of TaBreyon McCullough and another from the family of Leverenz — were part of Monday’s hearing.

Jurors deliberated about four hours before handing up a guilty verdict against Harris at his trial in April. Mockbee noted Harris also was found guilty by accountability in the case regarding the shooting death of Pepper.

Police were called to the 1700 block of East Main Street on March 25, 2007, where officers found Pepper shot and bleeding in the street. Investigators later discovered the bodies of McCullough and Leverenz inside a nearby duplex apartment at 1707 E. Main St. Pepper had broken out the large window at the front of the apartment as he apparently tried to flee. The two women also had been shot.

Harris was arrested on March 25, 2011, in an unrelated drug case and was charged in April 2011 in the triple shooting death. He has been incarcerated at the Vermilion County Public Safety Building jail since that time.

One other man has been found guilty and convicted in connection with the murders. Freddell Bryant, 35, was sentenced in U.S. District Court a little more than a year ago to three consecutive life sentences for his role in the shooting deaths.

The federal grand jury indictment leveled against Bryant in summer 2011 alleged the murders were a result of accusations about missing drugs belonging to Bryant.

According to evidence presented in the trial, Bryant used McCullough on March 24, 2007, to hold kilogram amounts of cocaine at her residence in Danville.

Bryant learned at some point later that day that multiple kilograms of the cocaine had been taken from McCullough’s residence.

The next day, according to the evidence, Bryant took McCullough to an apartment at 1707 E. Main St. to confront Pepper and Leverenz, whom he believed were involved in taking the drugs from McCullough’s home.