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BLOOMINGTON - A McLean County jury convicted a former Bloomington man of first-degree murder Wednesday for gunning down a rival gang member at Miller Park more than two years ago.

Byron Merriweather will face 45 years to life in prison when he's sentenced next month for the June 15, 2003, slaying of 24-year-old Stephen McDade.

The 20-year-old defendant showed no emotion as jurors were polled about their guilty verdict Wednesday in McLean County Circuit Court. The jury deliberated for three hours before returning the verdict.

Prosecutors say Merriweather, a member of the Conservative Vice Lords gang, shot and killed McDade because he was from a rival gang, the Gangster Disciples.

Merriweather, who did not testify during the weeklong trial, confessed to the shooting on a police audiotape, and several eyewitnesses told the jury they saw him shoot McDade.

The defense's only witness was another member of Merriweather's gang who said the defendant was unarmed when McDade was killed.

Other testimony showed Merriweather had a longstanding feud with the Gangster Disciples and that he had told others he'd previously been shot at by members of that gang.

Defense attorney Dick Koritz said he still believed some of the prosecution's witnesses lacked credibility but that he accepted the jury's decision.

Some of the witnesses received money from the police so they could relocate from the Twin Cities. Others offered their testimony with the hope of receiving reduced sentences on pending criminal charges.

Koritz also confirmed that prosecutors had offered his client a deal that would have allowed him to plead guilty instead of going to trial. Merriweather turned it down.

While Koritz wouldn't elaborate, Debra Merriweather, the defendant's mother, has said prosecutors offered to let her son plead guilty to first-degree murder, but with a sentencing range of 20 to 60 years in prison.

Merriweather now instead faces 45 years to life in prison when Dozier sentences him March 29 because of Illinois laws that require stiffer penalties for crimes involving handguns.

First Assistant State's Attorney Kim Campbell said she was pleased with the jury's verdict and agreed it likely sent a message to people in gangs who commit crimes.


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