Kettrell Berry trial set for June 16, more than 2 years after arrest
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 â€” 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 â€” 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 â€” 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 â€” 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.