Chicago police make arrest in Levi Stubblefield's death a year later

One mother's long road to justice

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By La Risa Lynch

Contributing Reporter

More than a year after Arbrett Stubblefield found her son dead in a vacant apartment in the 300 block of North Pine, the Chicago police finally charged the man Stubblefield long suspected of murdering her son in 2011.

On Jan. 29, police charged Sylvester Tatum, of the 5400 block of W. Thomas, in connection with the November 2011 slaying of Levi Stubblefield, 34, a Berwyn father of four. Tatum was charged with one count of first degree murder for fatally shooting Stubblefield in a vacant Austin apartment Nov. 5, 2011. Bail was set at $1 million for Tatum whose next court date is Friday, Feb. 15 at Cook County Criminal Courts Building, 2650 South California Ave.

The news of Tatum's arrest comes as a welcome relief to Arbrett Stubblefield of west suburban Berwyn. She called it a blessing that Tatum was arrested and charged in her son's death. But she admits the road to bring her son's killer to justice has been a hard one. The task became more daunting when she had to put grief aside and become a citizen detective – so to speak – to find her son's killers.

When the police seemingly didn't take her son's murder seriously, Arbrett Stubblefield took matters into her own hands. She along with her daughter, Latoya, canvassed the neighborhood seeking witnesses who pointed to Tatum as the alleged killer.

Stubblefield contends police interest was passive in their investigation of her son's death because of his past. She admits her son wasn't perfect. She said Levi got high, sold drugs and had a criminal record, but he was her son nonetheless. She said Levi and Tatum grew up together and also sold drugs together.

The police's lukewarm reception to her concerns, prompted Stubblefield to threaten to go to the media. But she said the police advised against that. The police, she said, told her that her son's criminal record would come out.

"They made me angry," she said. "What difference does it make?"

Her long road to justice started with a missing person's report in 2011. Stubblefield said her daughter filed a report Nov. 3 or 4 when she didn't hear from her brother. She said her son was last seen with Tatum who was upset that Levi didn't help him when Tatum got beat up by drug dealers earlier in day.

With her son missing, Stubblefield prayed to God to lead her to her son. Stubblefield and her daughter went to Tatum's building in 300 block of North Pine, which the two friends used as a "safe house." That's when Stubblefield's daughter saw shell casings through the first floor window. When Stubblefield peered through the window, she saw the lower half of son's body pushed against the wall. The sight still haunts her today.

"I still see him every day," she said. "That is something that will probably never go away. If I want to think good thoughts about my son, the first thing I see is his feet."

She contends Levi was shot Nov. 2, but remained in the building undetected for two days until she called the police on Nov. 5.

"People knew that my son was laying up in there for all those days, but nobody never called the police," she said.

Stubblefield partnered with CrimeStoppers to leaflet the block to get information on her son's killer. Soon witnesses came forward. Stubblefield said witnesses told her they heard shots coming from the building where Tatum lived.

Witnesses also saw the two arguing outside before they entered the building. Police however had yet to arrest Tatum. Stubblefield said witnesses approached her and her daughter with information out of a sense of conscience.

But at times Stubblefield felt overwhelmed by it all, even when she obtained the medical report that showed her son was shot 10 times. She relied on her faith through it all.

"It is just like He said, 'Seek, ask and knock and the door will open,'" Stubblefield said, adding that she wasn't going to wait on the police to bring her son's killer to justice.

She wrote and called anyone who would help. She wrote the superintendent of police, the 15th District Police commander, the State's Attorney's Office and the Illinois Attorney General's Office. She said it was tough knowing that Tatum "felt like he got away with it."

Stubblefield said things turned around when new detectives were assigned to the case. The previous detectives, she said, didn't believe the witnesses who came forward. But it took a prison snitch to finally connect Tatum to Levi Stubblefield's death.

Tatum, 33, was arrested in the Austin neighborhood on Jan. 26. Via a tip, police spotted him that Saturday morning driving a white taxi cab with Illinois plates. Following a brief search of the area, police located the cab in the parking lot of a car wash at Grand and Cicero. Officers stopped the vehicle and placed Tatum in custody without incident. According to police, Levi Stubblefield sustained multiple gunshot wounds in the November 2011 shooting.

Arbrett Stubblefield said it wasn't her job to investigate her own son's murder, but "I had to do what I had to do." While she is happy her son's killer faces first-degree murder charges, for her daughter, the pain still runs deep.

"I still think there are other people involved," Latoya Stubblefield said.

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