“The state argued successfully that Ms. Berry intentionally inflicted physical and emotional pain on this child … which caused her death because she didn’t want to be subject to being ridiculed by medical professionals and selfishly she didn’t want to be punished with the crime herself so she let her daughter waste away and starve to death,” Judge Joan Bloom said at Berry’s hearing.
Berry, 35, was arrested June 15 at her home off Concord Road in Smyrna on felony charges of first-degree cruelty to children and murder. She remains in the Cobb County Jail without bond. According to the arrest warrant, Berry is accused of cruelty to children in the first degree for “willfully” depriving her teenager of “sustenance” and murder because malnourishment caused the teen’s death.
She appeared before Bloom on Thursday for a probable cause hearing to determine if she could have possibly committed the crime that led to her arrest.
Bloom said Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Odom argued that perhaps the 16-year-old was the “target child.”
“Sometimes in a family there is a target child that you don’t take care of, that you pick on, or neglect,” Bloom said.
Berry’s appointed attorney, Rick Kimberly, did not seek bond for his client but did try — unsuccessfully — to get Berry’s charges reduced to second-degree cruelty to children, or felony neglect.
“In order to support a cruelty first charge, you have to intentionally inflict harm,” Kimberly said Friday. “My argument was that there wasn’t sufficient evidence of probable cause to inflict pain upon this child.”
He argued that because there was food in the home and that the other three children who also lived there were healthy, Berry was not intentionally starving the 16-year-old.
“(Thursday), the state appeared to back off on the intentional starvation of the child. My client maintained that she was not deliberately not feeding the child,” he said.
Kimberly also said that his client is “distraught” because her daughter died and that he didn’t want the public to jump to conclusions about the case.
“There is a lot of information that we do not have. We all believe that there were mental and/or physical disabilities and the (Cobb Medical Examiner’s Office) is looking into that,” he said. “My understanding is that (the dead teenager) was diagnosed from birth, but I can’t substantially confirm that. I have been told that from family and others.”
Kimberly said the child’s medical records have been requested from the state of Michigan. He said she was born there and that Berry moved to the Smyrna area from Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2003.
Detective Chris Twiggs with Cobb Police has been assigned to the case. His report included the mother telling police that her daughter was anorexic and bulimic, that she hadn’t taken the teenager to the doctor in two years, what the child looked like when police responded to the scene and that there was some delay from the time that Berry discovered her daughter dead and when she called police.
“(He) described the child as being so emaciated that she looked like a skeleton with skin on top,” Bloom said.
The evidence Twiggs presented also indicated that the mother found the child dead around 11:30 a.m. but that phone records show she did not call 911 until around 1:30 p.m. that day.
However, Kimberly said the first he had heard of any delays in regards to Berry calling police was on Thursday
“I’m not sure how accurate that is. I do believe she may have called her father first in Michigan though,” he said.
If the case is not indicted within 90 days, Bloom will be responsible for setting Berry’s bond. She said an indictment could take longer than that though because the medical examiner has not completed the autopsy and a definitive cause of death has not been determined.
Another topic involving Berry, which was not discussed during the hearing, was the role of Department of Family and Children Services in this case.
“She’s never been visited by DFCS in Georgia, just to be clear,” Kimberly said in response to recent reports that have come out stating his client was under investigation by the department.
“There may have been some sort of involvement two years ago when the child ran away … (but) the child was found and was OK at that point,” he said.
“Obviously, my client maintained custody of her children,” he said. “I’m not aware of any point when they took children from her custody.”
A spokesperson from DFCS was contacted by phone and email to confirm Kimberly’s statement but they were unable to confirm any information regarding Berry by press time on Friday.
According to the police report, police were called to Berry’s home in reference to an “unresponsive female” around 1:30 p.m. on June 15.
When police arrived on the scene, they found the dead body of Berry’s 16-year-old daughter and the investigation revealed that she was “severely malnourished and neglected.”
Mike Bowman with Cobb Police couldn’t say much else in regards to the death because it is still under investigation, however, the police report states that Berry’s three younger children, who were at the home at the time of the incident, are in “good condition” and were taken into custody by the DFCS, where they remain.
Kimberly wouldn’t give the children’s names but he said that a 15-year-old boy, 8-year-old daughter and 3-month-old son were all “perfectly fine.”