The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

April 30, 2014

Harris found guilty in triple murder

BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL bhuchel@dancomnews.com
The Commercial-News

---- — DANVILLE — The last suspect in the 2007 shooting death of three people drew to a close Tuesday with the conviction of the final suspect in the case.

Jurors in the case against 29-year-old Jerome Harris were dismissed from the Vermilion County Circuit courtroom at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday and took just under four hours to return with a guilty verdict on the numerous counts of first-degree murder.

Vermilion County Circuit Court proceedings began last week in the Harris trial. He was the final suspect charged in connection with the 2007 killing. 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.

Opening statements were presented April 23, followed by a state case that did not rest until Monday. Closing arguments were conducted Tuesday morning.

Vermilion County State’s Attorney Randy Brinegar said Harris was charged with being the gunman who shot and killed McCullough and Leverenz.

Under the charges against him, it is mandatory that Harris receive life in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Despite the mandatory nature of the penalty, a sentencing hearing will still take place next month, Brinegar said.

Brinegar, following the jury’s verdict, said it was tough to describe the emotions with the final suspect finally convicted in the case, adding he was he feeling “relief and happiness.”

“But it pales in comparison to what the families have gone through,” he added.

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.

Harris is the second man to face charges in connection with the shooting in Vermilion County Circuit Court.

The counts filed at the same time against co-defendant David Moore were dropped in November 2011 after it was determined Moore was an accomplice but not directly involved in the shootings of any of the three victims.

The incident was the first triple shooting in Danville since the 1970s

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.

It took a jury a little less than three hours of deliberation to arrive at the guilty verdict.

The federal grand jury indictment leveled against Bryant in summer 2011 alleged the murders were as 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.

The charges contend Bryant brought a gun to the home and used it to shoot the three victims.