Berry charged with vote fraud, perjury

Published 10:07 pm Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Former County Commissioner Karen Berry has been charged with voter fraud and perjury in connection with her 2008 bid for office.

Berry turned herself in to the Pike County Jail Tuesday on charges of absentee ballot fraud and first-degree perjury. According to information from the District Attorney, she has reached a plea agreement on the charges, although the agreement has yet to be presented to a judge.

“If it gets resolved before it gets to the grand jury, no one else will be charged,” said Gary McAliley, District Attorney. “That’s our agreement.”

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Berry was logged into the jail at 10:47 a.m, where she was booked, fingerprinted and photographed. She was discharged at 11:05 a.m. Tuesday on a $5,000 bond – $2,500 for the perjury charge and $2,500 for the fraud charge.

According to information from the police report, Berry submitted or authorized the submission of ballots she knew were improperly signed and not witnessed by a notary in the November 2008 general election.

In April 2009, Berry lied in court while under oath regarding the obtaining, submitting, signing and witnessing of the ballots, the report states.

In October 2009, during a court case brought by Oren Fannin, Judge Joel Holley ruled that Berry had won the November election illegally.

Fannin was Berry’s opponent in that race and had lost the vote by just six ballots. Holley ruled that 10 ballots were found to be illegally cast. Berry lost her seat on the commission.

In the course of the trial, Holley was reported to say, “Someone here today has committed perjury.”

McAliley said he had been gathering information and investigating witnesses connected to Berry’s case when defense attorney Frank Ralph approached him and agreed to his client submitting a guilty plea.

McAliley said he and Ralph settled on terms, though McAliley would not offer details related to their arrangement.

As a result, Berry is not scheduled to appear before the Pike County Grand Jury. McAliley said whether Berry’s lawyer submitted a plea or Berry was taken before the grand jury, the effects would be similar.

“The same thing can be accomplished by someone turning in a guilty plea to district attorney’s information, which takes the place of an indictment,” McAliley said. “The outcome is the same.”

District Judge William Hightower excused himself from the case, and so it was referred to Judge Kelley, who is the presiding circuit judge for assigned cases. According to the most recent information, a first appearance has not been set.

The next grand jury is set for Tuesday. McAliley said an appearance date for Berry’s case will be set before the meeting.

Berry worked in the Pike County School System for 36 years. School Superintendent Mark Bazzell said Berry submitted her resignation for retirement on Oct. 8, and her resignation was accepted on Oct. 11, effective Oct. 31.

She has been on leave since Oct. 11, Bazzell said.

“We had been following the situation over the last year or so,” Bazzell said Wednesday. “But I heard about [the arrest] this morning.”

Barry and Ralph were not immediately available for comment.