District 6 trial awaits final verdict

Published 10:51 pm Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It could be a family feud. Or it could be election fraud. Either way, the judge in the Pike County Commission District 6 election contest trial between Karen Berry and opponent Oren Fannin should have a verdict within the next two weeks.

Final witnesses were called to testify Wednesday in the case in which Fannin is alleging Berry won the November 2008 election with illegal votes.

Among those witnesses were Berry’s son, Brent Berry, her ex-daughter-in-law Ashley Berry and notary Kathy Lunsford Griffin.

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Ashley Berry testified in court she did not vote in the November 2008 election, despite an absentee ballot cast for Karen Berry with Ashley’s signature on it. The absentee affidavit, dated Oct. 6, 2008, also includes Griffin’s signature as notary.

Ashley Berry’s ex-husband Brent Berry testified in the original trial on April 22 and again Wednesday that both he and his wife had voted absentee on Oct. 6 at at Karen Berry’s house. Both Griffin and Karen Berry’s testimonies matched.

But, Ashley Berry said Wednesday she never voted, and that the signature on the ballot was not hers.

Joel Williams, Fanin’s attorney, also submitted documents into evidence containing Ashley Berry’s signature on them, and after she testified those were her signatures, Judge Joel Holley said they appeared to be different from the affidavit she allegedly signed.

“I am not a handwriting expert, but this signature and this one appear to be not the same,” Holley said, pointing to the two different documents.

Berry’s attorney Frank Ralph, attempted to call Ashley Berry’s motive for testifying into question.

“There is an underlying motive for this testimony, and I’m trying to get at it,” Ralph said, after receiving repeated objections from Williams for asking questions related to a divorce between Ashley and Brent Berry. The couple divorced in June.

Brent Berry was called to the stand by Ralph, and he told the court again that he and his ex-wife had voted absentee on the morning of Oct. 6, 2008, at Karen Berry’s residence.

Brent said the absentee ballots would have been filled out between 6:30 and 7 a.m. in order to give the family enough time to bring their three children to school by 8:10 a.m. that morning, since records submitted in court showed the children present in school that day and on time.

The children do not attend school in Pike County.

But, Holley and Williams questioned the validity of his statement, simply because of how long it would take to drive those approximately 120 miles from Pike County to the Birmingham area, where Brent Berry testified he and his family lived although they had maintained their voter registration in Pike County.

During his testimony, Holley asked Brent Berry to sign his name on a piece of paper five times. Holley compared that signature to one that appeared on a recent bond appearance and then compared those to the one on his absentee affidavit.

Brent Berry told the judge his signature may be different on the bond appearance since he was “intoxicated” at the time. But, that wasn’t where Holley saw the difference.

“What you singed today is just like you signed when you were ‘intoxicated,’” Holley said. “Why would what you sign today appear different than on that affidavit?”

Brent Berry also admitted in court to asking Ashley Berry not to attend the trial prior to today.

“I asked her not to come because I did not want to air our situation,” Brent Berry said.

Ashley Berry said Brent Berry went as far as to offer her money not to attend Wednesday’s trial.

Another discrepancy in the timeline was raised in court on Wednesday.

On April 22, Griffin testified to witnessing the two sign ballots between 7 and 7:30 a.m.

But, when called to the stand again and after deliberation with Ralph and Berry, Griffin told the court she was mistaken in that testimony.

Griffin said she recalled sometime between the first trial and Wednesday, though she could not say when, that she had actually notarized the ballots between 6 and 6:20 a.m., so that the couple could get their children to school on time.

“When you testified April 22, it was clear to you that their children were with them … it was clear to you about every other detail, but you couldn’t remember what time it was?” Williams questioned her.

In closing arguments, Williams said he believes he has proven a total of 10 illegal votes were cast for Karen Berry — those of Brent and Ashley Berry; Misty Shelton and Rodger Blair, who testified no notary witnessed their signatures; three stipulated votes; and three others he submitted contesting the signatures did not appear to belong to the voters.

Ralph said he questioned three of Fannin’s votes that came out in trial April 22 that those who voted for him did not live in District 6.

Holley said he will issue an order and hopefully have it done within two weeks.

The total in the election was only a difference of six votes.

The contest was filed in December 2008.