In March 1983, a Hispanic woman was approached by a man with a knife in Newark, New Jersey. He blindfolded her, placed her in his car, and drove to pick up two other men. The three drove her to an abandoned warehouse where they raped her.
The victim reported the rape two days later, telling police the three rapists were black. Police asked her to look at the mug books. The books were organized by the last names of the persons pictured, and held up to 100 photos each.
After she had looked through the “A’s” and identified no one, police told her she might have to look through all of the books if she did not identify her attackers quickly. She then picked three men out of the “B’s” book, Michael Bunch, Anthony Bludson, and Earl Berryman.
Police delayed arresting any of the men because Bunch was a suspect in an armed robbery/homicide and they did not want to lose any leads. The three were eventually arrested in January 1984.
Bludson was tried first, and Bunch and Berryman were tried jointly.
At Berryman’s joint trial with Bunch, the victim’s identification of Berryman was the only evidence against him.
The victim gave testimony that was different from the testimony she gave at Bludson’s trial, but Berryman’s attorney failed to cross-examine her about the inconsistencies.
Berryman’s attorney also opened the door for the prosecution to tell the jury about Bunch’s suspected involvement in the armed robbery/homicide, and failed to call witnesses who could have discredited the victim’s testimony.
Berryman’s first trial ended in a mistrial because of juror misconduct. Berryman’s counsel repeated these mistakes in his second trial, and in March 1985, the jury convicted Berryman of rape and kidnapping, and he was sentenced to 50 years.
Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that works to overturn wrongful convictions, undertook an extensive review of the Berryman case when it learned of discrepancies in the account of the rape victim.
In 1995, a federal district court granted Berryman’s habeas corpus petition and reversed his conviction because he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The prosecution dismissed the charges in February 1997.
- Stephanie Denzel