A judge on Monday cut in half Byron Merriweather's 70-year sentence in the 2003 shooting death of a man at Miller Park, after a review of how Merriweather’s youth may have influenced his decision to pull the trigger.
Merriweather was 17 when he fired four rounds, killing Steven McDade during an altercation between rival street gangs.
A 2019 Illinois Supreme Court decision in another case involving an underage offender opened the door for a review of sentences for Merriweather and other defendants who were minors at the time of their offenses. A threshold of 40 years is sufficient in most murder cases, the court ruled, unless a person shows traits of “irreparable corruption.”
At a hearing earlier this month, Merriweather, now 35, testified about his previous membership in the Vice Lords, a gang he joined as an adolescent. On the summer evening when McDade was shot, Merriweather and a group of friends became involved in a brawl with members of the rival Gangster Disciples, according to Merriweather.
When he heard another Vice Lord yell “Shoot, shoot,” Merriweather fired the handgun someone put in his hands on the car ride to Miller Park, Merriweather told Judge Casey Costigan at the March 12 hearing.
In his ruling to reduce Merriweather’s sentence to 35 years, Costigan said he considered the strides Merriweather has made toward rehabilitation since we he was sentenced. The college degree and courses Merriweather has completed, along with his plans to start a program for troubled youth, were among the accomplishments Costigan cited.
“I don’t see someone who shows irreparable corruption,” the judge told Merriweather.
Defense lawyer Mark Zalcman asked the judge to sentence Merriweather “as the person he’s become.”
The former gang member “is a remarkable man who has been rehabilitated,” said Zalcman, asking for a minimum sentence of 20 years.
First Assistant State’s Attorney Brad Rigdon recounted the circumstances of the shooting, specifically the two sets of shots fired by Merriweather. The first two rounds struck the victim; the second shots were fired after McDade was on the ground, said Rigdon.
“The second set of shots are cold-blooded and calculated,” said the prosecutor.
The purpose of the trip to Miller Park was “to right the wrong done to them earlier at the park,” added Rigdon, referring to a disagreement between the gangs earlier in the day at the park.
Merriweather took a gun “so he could murder someone he’s admitted he did not even know,” said Rigdon.
The state asked that Merriweather’s sentence of 45 years for murder and an additional 25 years on a weapons charge remain in effect.
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