DeKALB – Video footage shows a 21-year-old DeKalb man and another accused of shooting him to death leaving a party with several others on Ridge Drive before the fatal incident earlier this month, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The new information was revealed during a virtual bond hearing before DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge Marcy Buick.
Deanphony Broadnax Merchant, 22, formerly of Carpentersville who court officials said lives in DeKalb, is charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 3 shooting death of Caeleb Dunlap-Milam. The 21-year-old DeKalb resident died from a gunshot wound to the head days after the shooting on Oct. 6. Prosecutors said they believe Merchant pulled the trigger.
DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd said a semi-automatic pistol was used in the shooting.
DeKalb County Assistant State’s Attorney Suzanne Collins said Dunlap-Milam was shot in the head. It was marked his cause of death by a Winnebago County coroner, she said.
“There was evidence of close-range firing,” Collins said in her appeal to Buick, citing the autopsy report.
According to DeKalb County court records, police found Dunlap-Milam lying on the sidewalk about 5:20 a.m. Oct. 3. He was taken to Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb and later transferred to OSF Saint Anthony in Rockford, where he died.
Buick set Merchant’s bond at $5 million, citing a lack of clear evidence brought forward to the court so far that made her unable to declare no bond in the case. The DeKalb County state’s attorney’s office had asked that Merchant be given no bond, citing the nature of the charges and video surveillance footage.
“The court has to make a finding that the proof presented by the state is evident and a presumption is great that the defendant is guilty of the charge in the case, which is first-degree murder,” Buick said. “Based on the proffer presented by the state, I am unable to make that finding.”
Merchant would have to post $500,000 to be released from DeKalb County Jail. If convicted, Merchant could face life in prison and fines up to $25,000.
Video sheds more light on fatal shooting, says prosecutor
In her appeal to Buick, Collins said she’s seen the video surveillance.
Collins said that during the DeKalb police investigation, officers told her that Merchant and Dunlap-Milam were seen together before the shooting during a party at 832 Ridge Drive, the Hunter Ridgebrook apartment complex. Video surveillance then shows the two left the building with a group of other people, she said.
“The victim and the defendant were in that group of people leaving the building just moments before this shooting occurred,” Collins said. “They were wearing distinctive clothing that was able to be identified later in subsequent videos.”
Collins said video shows that the group was seen walking down the street toward a car.
“As they were walking down the street, you hear a gunshot and see individuals running to the car,” Collins said. “Those individuals ran to the car, and the defendant ran to the car just behind those individuals.”
Additional surveillance footage from around the area shows that DeKalb police tracked the vehicle to Burritoville in the 1000 block of West Hillcrest Drive, Collins said.
“At Burritoville, you see someone get out of the back driver door and it’s the same door that the defendant got in when he ran to the car,” Collins said. “We know that by the distinctive clothes.”
Collins said the video then shows DeKalb police cars descending onto the area, and Merchant allegedly fleeing, later stopping at a 7/11 convenience store on Annie Glidden Road.
“At that point, he speaks to somebody and the officers do not see him further,” Collins said.
DeKalb police eventually tracked Merchant to Madison, Wisconsin, Collins said. He was arrested there 12 hours later, still wearing the same “distinctive clothing” as he appeared in after the shooting.
According to court records, police uncovered one spent shell casing at the scene, and through interviews with several witnesses, identified Merchant as the suspected shooter.
Public Defender Tom McCulloch, who represented Merchant, argued that video surveillance didn’t provide a clear picture as to who was responsible for the homicide. He said the state’s attorney’s office also had been unable to name who the witnesses were so he could better vet potential conflicts of interest.
“While there are certainly a lot of things left to be investigated and examined, what is particularly lacking is any reference to the people or the circumstance surrounding an identification,” McCulloch said. “You’ve heard comments about clothing descriptions but not much beyond that. We think that’s insufficient to believe that at this state Mr. Broadnax is the person even responsible for this offense.”
According to officials from the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office, Merchant has a history of felony convictions out of Kane County, including a 2019 felony conviction of aggravated battery and a 2019 felony conviction of mob action use of force. Merchant does not have any prior criminal history in DeKalb County, according to court records.
Merchant is expected to appear for a status hearing on the charges at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 16 in front of Buick.