The brief video above was part of a story on a non-profit’s assistance to returning citizens. The story says Berry had no resources on his release.
Berry convicted due to “mere presence” at scene of killing, agreed to plea deal due to fear of dying from COVID-19
Co-defendant recanted statement he said DPD, including Inv. Barbara Simon, forced him to sign; Simon linked to other wrongful convictions
By Ricardo Ferrell
VOD Field Editor
June 28, 2021
Diane Bukowski, VOD editor: Gregory Berry’s story brings to mind the release of Ray Gray, covered earlier by Ferrell. Gray, a Golden Gloves champion in his youth and a celebrated artist while in prison, served almost 50 years a murder he did not commit. Two eyewitnesses including the actual killer and the woman who rented the apartment where the killing happened gave sworn statements that Gray was not there. Former broadcaster and innocence investigator Bill Proctor campaigned for actual exoneration for Gray, based on extensive evidence.
But Wayne Co. Prosecutor Kym Worthy claimed a third eyewitness still maintains her identification of the killer. Gray pled guilty to 2nd-degree murder to obtain his release to take care of his severely ill wife.
He and Berry have thus been denied access to state-mandated funds for victims of wrongful convictions and clearance of their criminal records, among other consequences of such plea deals.
Despite maintaining his innocence for more than 17 years, and having newly discovered evidence presented to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit by his attorney James Sterling Lawrence, which proved he had been wrongfully convicted of a homicide he did not commit, Gregory Berry faced the possibility of becoming one of the more than 142 prisoners that have died of complications from the Coronavirus.
In early December 2020, Berry tested positive for COVID while housed at the Chippewa Correctional Facility. His symptoms worsened day-by-day, where he lost his taste/smell, had a high fever of 102, with cold sweats, body aches and difficulty breathing. The MDOC opened what they called COVID units and housed sick infected prisoners in the same space with each other, as a way to control the disease and keep it from spreading. However, that measure proved to be a failure because not only did infections increase, sick prisoners got even sicker and some even died after being transferred to the COVID units.
Berry, as he struggled everyday with battling the virus, says he also had a legitimate concern not just about hoping to get well and recover, but whether or not he would ever make it out of prison alive, before proving his innocence.
“COVID for me was a wake-up call,” Berry said. “When I contracted it, the disease was destroying my physical existence. It was causing me to lose hope and my will to live started to diminish, as I watched those around me being wiped out by this deadly virus. My suffering was something I’d never before experienced. It felt like my body was rapidly breaking down and losing the strength to function properly. I thought I was going to die and started having dreams of dying, and that my 8×10 cell would become my grave,” says Berry.
With over 26,000 of the MDOCs 32,000 prisoners having contracted COVID-19, nearly 145 of that number have been killed by this disease. There are roughly 315 prisoners currently in step-down units due to COVID according to the state’s coronavirus website: Michigan.gov/corrections “Coronavirus Update”, which further shows that this virus isn’t done yet. More infections and deaths will occur.
I asked Gregory Berry during a recent telephone interview, why would he accept and take a plea, when there’s new evidence that proves he didn’t commit the 2003 homicide of Octavio Hernandez?
“Honestly speaking, when my attorney told me about the nolo contendere plea being offered I declined, and told him there’s no way I’m admitting to committing this crime, when I, as well as everyone else, know I am innocent. The police know, the prosecutor knows, and my family knows that I have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for a crime someone else has stepped up and admitted their culpability in, so why should I have to take a plea?,” Berry said.
“After going to bed that night and thinking about how I had been put at risk of dying from this disease, coupled with the fact I read an article in the Detroit Free Press how over 115 prisoners had contracted COVID-19 a second time, I was devastated and petrified over the idea, that even though I was sitting in prison innocent, I could still actually die right there in that cell. The pressure was enormous and it intensified, the stress of it all consumed my rationality, and I felt that if I was going to give myself a chance of not dying from COVID, I had no other choice but to accept the offer, which would prompt my immediate release and better my chance of recovering from this virus. I thought about a prisoner who had died, from his second bout with COVID and that sort of informed my decision to take the no contest plea,” stated Berry.
This writer has covered stories of other wrongfully convicted people, yet this particular case stands out due to the circumstances surrounding why Gregory Berry ended up accepting the offer from the Wayne County Prosecutors Office. It’s my belief that Berry didn’t just take the plea so that he could simply get out of prison, it had more to do with his frame of mind, at a time when he’s suffering from the impact of COVID-19 and struggling to make a conscious decision he felt could save his life.
The question has to be asked, why would the CIU and Prosecutor after completing its review and investigation, first move to have Berry’s convictions vacated and dismissed, then turn around and draw up a no contest plea for Accessory After the Fact, for Berry supposedly driving Hamilton away from the scene of the crime? There was a sworn affidavit and testimony indicating Berry drove away out of the Mobil gas station, and Hamilton had to run and dive into the window of the car. That was indicative of Berry not having anything to do with the shooting, thereby absolving him of any culpability in the crime.
Hamilton’s own words exonerated Berry, indicating he had nothing to do with his the robbery-murder. It shows Berry driving a car that Hamilton forced his way into when he dove through the open window.
Berry should’ve been totally exonerated and apologized to for having to serve more than 17 years of his life behind bars for a crime everyone knows he did not commit. For Berry to receive money under the State’s Compensation Act should be a no brainer. He actually deserves more than the $850,000 allotment because there isn’t any amount of money that can compare to the years he lost during his wrongful convictions and false imprisonment.
In light of the injustice and obvious debacle by the Detroit Police Department, and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office wrongfully prosecuting an innocent man for the Hernandez murder, Berry deserves a lot more than a plea bargain to a one-to-five year sentence and time served. He should be given a full exoneration, not a partial one with legal maneuvering and strings attached. Michigan law allows for the challenging of a plea under duress.
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