Archived Story

Berry gets suspended sentence

Published 9:31pm Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Former Pike County Commissioner Karen Berry’s plea arrangement netted her a sentence without jail time for a felony conviction of absentee ballot fraud and first-degree perjury.

In a sentence handed down Tuesday by Judge Thomas Head, Berry was given two-year concurrent suspended sentences on each charge and two years’ probation. She also must pay court costs and $100 in Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission Assessment, said District Attorney Gary McAliley.

Both of Berry’s crimes were class C felonies, which are punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 for each crime. Other than these two felony convictions, McAliley said Berry’s record was clean, which helped her case, McAliley said.

“Ms. Berry had been a public servant,” he said. “She had an unblemished record, not even a speeding ticket.”

In the November 2008 general election, Berry submitted or authorized the submission of ballots she knew were improperly signed and not witnessed by a notary, according to court documents. She won the seat for County Commission against her opponent, Oren Fannin, by just six ballots.

In April 2009, Berry lied under oath about the ballots and obtaining them; then submitted them and knew they weren’t signed correctly or witnessed, court records show. In October 2009, in a civil case brought by Fannin, Judge Joel Holley ruled that Berry had won the November election illegally. Holley said that 10 ballots were cast illegally, and Berry lost her commission seat. At the time, Holley said someone in the courtroom had committed perjury during the testimony.

“Everybody makes mistakes,” McAliley said in an interview after Berry’s sentence was handed down. “Sometimes they get caught.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that her sentence sends a message of fairness and honesty – and what happens when politicians step off the path, McAliley said.

“She’s now a convicted felon. We needed to send a message that we would pursue these matters to prevent other officials from committing voter fraud.”

McAliley said he could not address whether or not Berry would be responsible for repayment of any salary collected during her year served as commissioner before the resolution of the civil case.

Berry’s attorney, Frank Ralph, was not available for comment.

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  • LateNiteLuigi

    Poor baby, she got a slap on the wrist. SHE SHOULD PAY BACK HER MONEY EARNED DURING THE YEAR! She did it with criminal intent-duh!

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  • wareagle1

    This is awful!! It does not matter if she has a clean record. She committed 2 felonies and walks away with cost and a ashtray fine! The judge and DA are a joke if this is how justice is served.

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  • henrimasters

    Well at least the good ole boy network is working for the girls as well now. Boy has Pike County come a long way. We have eliminated gender discrimination. Good work!

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  • Bulldogsbaby

    These are the types of crimes probation and restitution are made for. It makes more sense to have Mrs. Berry serve probation and pay restitution than to place her in an overcrowded jail with murderers, and hard core felons. This is why people with serious offenses get released so that “white collar” offenders can serve time? No thanks. I’ll sleep easier knowing she is serving probation and someone who abused a child, killed someone, or committed an armed robbery is behind bars.

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  • Bamabunny

    I guess it’s who you know.

    She was paid though with taxpayer money when she was Pike County Commissioner. She should pay all that back. There is no excuse as to why she cannot….even if it’s done in installments. Why should she not be responsible for it?

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  • DirtRoadDweller

    What a load of manure! Berry got a sweetheart deal with with the District Attorney’s office. Good thing McAliley is leaving office – I sure as heck would never vote for him again after this stunt. This is a slap in the face to Pike Countians. At the very least, Berry should be made to pay back the salary she took while serving illegally.

    And what about the comment by McAliley: ““Everybody makes mistakes…..Sometimes they get caught.”

    As for the message it sends of fairness and honesty, who is he kidding.

    Here’s the message he has sent – “Cheat all you want in Pike County elections. If you get caught, we might kick you out of office, eventually, but you get to keep all the money we paid you while you were serving illegally!”

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  • Bill_OReally

    Unbelievable. So basically if you try to rig an election and get caught, the most you will get in Pike County is probation. That is awesome.

    By the way, as a convicted felon, isn’t Ms. Berry prohibited from voting any more? Pretty ironic, eh?

    Of course, I’m sure if she “makes a mistake” and gets caught trying to vote they will simply put her on double secret probation.

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    • Kelly

      Most of you will probably laugh at my question, but here goes…
      The article was not specific: Was the crime actual voter fraud; ie: did she fake ballots of dead people etc, or did she just not go through all the proper steps, ie, notarizing the ballots? I guess my question is: Did those people who are named on the absentee ballots actually intend to vote for her, and just not dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s, or was it a complete sham, where she completely faked the ballots?
      That would make a difference in how I would choose to punish her.

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      • TheTruth

        Technically, it was fraud in that the ballots weren’t properly witnessed(improperly signed). In reality most of the voters(at least enough to swing the election to Berry) intended to vote for Berry. Two ballots(those of the son and daughter in law) were deemed out of district. That is open for debate.
        If they maintained their primary residence(that of their parents) as that of their weekend residence, then their votes were legal. There was some debate as to whether the ex daughter-in-law actually voted but that could be mired in the effects of a bitter divorce. Anyway, Construction workers and many others live out of town except for the weekends and maintain their primary residence at their weekend home. I know of people who actually own residences in multiple towns. They can only pick one as their primary residence. Where they purchase automobile tags etc. can help determine which town is primary. At any
        rate, if you threw out the two(son and daughter in law’s, votes, Mr. Fannin’s illegal votes, Mrs. Berry’s 2 other out of district votes and counted the votes of the people who actually intended to vote for Berry but did not get them witnessed correctly, Mrs. Berry would have still won. So actually the will of the people didn’t prevail. The letter of the law did prevail. Some of the absentee ballots weren’t counted because they were improperly witnessed(those were what ultimately determined the net outcome). Neither Mr. Fannin nor Mrs. Berry are responsible for the others who voted out of district(for both). There remains a lot of bitterness over this election and the strange bedfellows who was backing the candidates. Kelly, I hopefully have answered your question. The law did prevail although the people probably did not. If a ballot is not correctly witnessed and processed, then it can be thrown out and that is what happened and because of the closeness of the election, it determined the outcome.

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        • Kelly

          Thanks truth.
          I had a feeling it was something like that…

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  • CG55

    That is probally where some of the taxes raises they wanted to stick us with is going…. I’m sure she will not have to worry (unlike working ppl) how to make ends meet for a long time if ever. I don’t even know the hiefer I’m just tired of being a tax payer and always new tax here new tax there heck we are taxed to death. Then someone slips up and BOOM you know y you have all the tax increases. TO LINE SOMEONE POCKETS.

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  • Bamabunny

    I can’t help but think that at some point with stories like this…that perhaps some of us will think…”is it even worth voting when things like this happen?”

    I have come to believe that more and more…every single vote means something…and could easily come down to even 6 votes like in this past election between Berry and Fannin.

    No matter what…please just vote on Tuesday!

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    • Kelly

      I agree bunn…
      Voting is a privilege that far too few people exercise.

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