Berry gets suspended sentence

Published 9:31 pm 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.

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“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.