Kettrell Berry trial set for June 16, more than 2 years after arrest

Kettrell in court 2012.

Kettrell at 2012 hearing.

Long sprinter Kettrell Berry has been a star since at least 1995, when he won M30 titles in the 200 and 400 at Michigan State nationals. Now 51, he continues to train and coach. But his life has been a nightmare since May 2012, when he was arrested and charged with child molestation. He maintains his innocence in the wake of his arrest and firing at the San Diego Center for Children, a school for troubled kids. How troubled? One — a teen named Elizabeth C — has a history of drug abuse, lying and stealing, according to school records Kettrell and his attorney hope to introduce as evidence. Elizabeth is Kettrell’s accuser. Last Friday morning, I attended a hearing in downtown San Diego Superior Court where Judge Joan Weber set a June 16 trial in the case. It’s expected to last 10 days. A jury pool of 85 has been ordered.

Kettrell (left) battles world champ Mike Sullivan at a May 2009 meet.

James Pokorny, a distance runner in his mid-60s, is defending Kettrell, and he’s first-rate. Pokorny specializes in child-molestation defense. An even bigger case on his plate: former Army-Navy Academy administrator Jeffrey Scott Barton.

Judge Weber, at the Friday hearing where I was the only spectator, said: “I didn’t know one case could have so many issues.”

Deputy District Attorney Renee Palermo, the prosecutor, later acknowledged: “It’s a messy situation.”

Weber then proceeded to sort through a slew of motions from both sides — determining what the jury would hear at trial. Weber excluded some items, allowed others and deferred decisions, pending June hearings where Pokorny would call witnesses ahead of trial.

Among them will be Elizabeth C herself, who turns 18 in March. Kettrell and his lawyer say they have evidence that Elizabeth told a school therapist she lied about accusing a 17-year-old boy of under-age sex. The boy was never charged, but Elizabeth will be put on the stand to say whether she had lied on this and other issues.

“If this was false reporting, this goes to the heart of the whole case,” Pokorny said.

Relevant to her credibility is a host of other incidents, including one that greatly interested the judge — an allegation that Elizabeth stole from her aunt.

In court documents, Pokorny said school records would show that Elizabeth has been “reported or disciplined for” manipulating school staff, threatening bodily harm to peers and faculty, physically assaulting another student, sexually harassing others and other acts.

Pokorny told the court Friday that Elizabeth, then 14 or 15, would “lie, cheat, steal” and resort to anything to get out of the school, suggesting that accusing Kettrell was part of a pattern.

“Bottom line is she invented this stuff,” Pokorny said. “She’s sexually experienced. She knew what to say, how to describe [sexual acts].”

But Judge Weber was hesitant to allow evidence of “manipulation,” saying: “I don’t see anything described in school records that would be relevant. … It would tend to confuse the jury.” She added that she didn’t want to see 15 teachers put on the stand to describe actions taking place 15 months before the arrest.

And Weber scoffed at allowing evidence that Elizabeth allowed another student to copy her homework, saying: “It does seem so minor to me. It’s a school incident … so trivial. … We’re kind of on a fishing expedition here.”

Also at issue is whether a tape of a phone chat should be allowed — one in which Kettrell is heard telling Elizabeth “It didn’t happen. This didn’t happen.” The prosecutor wants the jury to hear the tape. The defense wants only a transcript made available, saying the deputy DA could argue that Kettrell didn’t protest vigorously enough.

Pokorny said the call was only one of a series between Kettrell and the teen, and the tone of voice shouldn’t be spun against his client.

Wearing a gray suit and gray tie, Kettrell quietly sat beside his lawyer facing the judge — speaking only when asked if he agreed to a delay in trial dates. He did. (Trial has been postponed at least four times. First it was April 23, 2013, then Nov. 12, 2013, then Jan. 3 and later March 3, 2014.)

Kettrell, facing 14 counts that could put him in prison for 11 years, has been free on $150,000 bail.

He takes care of his young son and daughter. Son Amaree is a middle-distance star in the 9-10 group. He posts videos of hill training on Facebook.

Kettrell has a mountain to climb in court. But he’s building a good defense and a trial may reveal other circumstances that could free a friend to many.

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February 11, 2014

9 Responses

  1. Tony Echeandia - February 12, 2014

    I don’t know Kettrell personally but I have chatted with him on FB and he seems like a good person, I hope its not true and if so, that he can get back to a normal life. I hope it works out for the best.

  2. R. Easley - February 12, 2014

    This is a very scary situation for anyone in the field of teaching or working with youth. Any minor at anytime just has to accuse an adult of something like this and the reputation of the accused is ruined. They are not required to have proof nor is the adult allowed to face their accuser in court. If this turns out to be baseless there is no way to recover the reputation or sue for damages because there is a minor involved. In one case, that I know of, a youth minister was dismissed from a very high profile job on the day of his graduation from Seminary, simply because a report was made to the police. This person did not even have the right to know who his accuser was. The report was not followed up and no charges were filed but it still cost $15,000 for a lawyer that deals with wrongful accusations to protect him and prepare for the worst. The point is that all of the laws protect the minor but there is very little protection for the accused.
    I hope that Kettrell is innocent, but I know that he has a long road ahead of him even if he is. I also know that the person I mentioned earlier was innocent and had substantial proof of such, but he never recovered his job. He has since become an author and is on his third book. He also publishes a lot of Christian literature.

  3. kevin morning - February 12, 2014

    I am praying for you – you are not forgotten. I am also praying that justice would prevail.

  4. al cestero - February 13, 2014

    i will be praying for you as well,so that justice will be served.. god bless …

  5. Rick Easley - February 13, 2014

    You are in my prayers as well, Kettrell.

  6. Barry Warmerdam - February 14, 2014

    I have added you to my prayer list, Kettrell.

  7. Harold Tolson - March 7, 2014

    Here if you need.

  8. B.Franklin - June 5, 2014

    I hope for the best outcome of this situation this has put many lives on hold for several years and we can just pray for the best for the Berry Family and hope once and for all they can get on with their life. I have been friends with several members of the family and I know it has been hard on entire family. I want to say God Bless and hope for the best.

  9. G. Washington - June 14, 2014

    The girl was a troubled teen. She must have had issues to be in the school that she was. Which was a perfect haven for a manipulative, pervert to prey on those helpless children. He had access to her history and knew exactly how to work her. This was not his first victim. This is going to be an interesting trail. I really do hope justice prevails.

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