BLOOMINGTON — A former Bloomington woman on Thursday said she wore a wire while Byron Merriweather talked about shooting a man at Miller Park because she hoped authorities would cut her boyfriend’s prison sentence.
Rhonda Williams said Merriweather bragged in two taped conversations about shooting 24-year-old Stephen McDade during a fight between rival Twin City gangs June 15, 2003. Bloomington police recorded the conversations at her apartment.
Williams said she pretended to be interested in buying drugs from Merriweather to get him to talk about the shooting. Audiotapes of the January 2004 conversations were played in court for jurors Wednesday, but they were inaudible to spectators.
Judge Ronald Dozier agreed Thursday to release portions of the conversations to the media. Merriweather made several incriminating statements about the shooting on the tapes, including “I’d do it again if it came down to it.”
"He would do the same thing as me and bust that thing. That’s how I look at it," Merriweather said referring to McDade on the audiotapes. He added later, "May he rest in peace, but he was at the wrong place at the wrong time."
A member of the Conservative Vice Lords gang, Merriweather has admitted to being involved in a fight with rival members of the Gangster Disciples at Miller Park the night of the shooting, but says someone else shot and killed McDade.
Defense attorney Dick Koritz pointed out that Williams got several thousand dollars from Bloomington police after agreeing to testify against Merriweather, but the 26-year-old woman said the money was used to pay rent because she and her four children had to move from the Twin Cities.
Williams said she initially found out Merriweather was involved in the shooting when he came to a fast-food restaurant where she worked as a cashier and bragged loudly about committing the crime days earlier. Williams said she formed a plan after overhearing his boasts.
She said she contacted Bloomington detective Clay Wheeler, and months later through a friend, arranged for Merriweather to stop by her apartment under the premise that she would buy drugs. With some prodding, Merriweather told her everything police wanted to know about the shooting.
Although she hoped her cooperation would be considered by authorities during her boyfriend’s sentencing, Williams said Ray Davis still ended up getting 22 years in prison for federal cocaine and weapons charges.
When Koritz asked what motivated Williams’ testimony, she replied, “I wanted to finish what I started.”
The comment elicited commotion from Merriweather’s supporters. Bailiffs had to escort two men from the courtroom, barring them from attending the trial for the rest of the day.
Jurors on Thursday also heard testimony from a Bloomington woman who said she was with McDade at Miller Park when the shooting occurred. Savon Poston said she saw Merriweather shoot and kill McDade following a physical confrontation.
The fight started between McDade and Valentino Merriweather, the defendant’s older brother, said Poston, who admitted that she and McDade had been drinking and smoking marijuana in the park that day.
Valentino Merriweather tried to punch McDade. But the 23-year-old missed and then crumpled to the ground moments later after McDade hit him in the face, Poston said. Shortly after that, Byron Merriweather came over with a gun and shot McDade in the stomach and chest, Poston said.
Testimony in Merriweather’s murder trial will continue today at the McLean County Law and Justice Center in Bloomington.