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Johnny Berry

Other Philadelphia CIU Exonerations
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At 10 p.m. on August 10, 1994, two men approached 73-year-old Leonard Jones and 27-year-old Michelle Brooks while they were sitting in a van in the Parkside neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One man blocked the passenger side door from being opened, while the other, armed with a handgun, yelled at Jones to get out. Before Jones could comply, he was shot and killed. Both robbers fled.

Brooks described the man who held her door shut as short and having a chipped front tooth. Police later showed her a photographic lineup and she selected 16-year-old Johnny Berry, who was a suspected drug dealer in the neighborhood.

Berry was arrested on charges of murder and robbery. On August 31, 1994, Brooks came to a preliminary hearing. When she saw Berry, she told police he was not the person who held her door shut. The charges were dismissed and Berry was freed.

However, in September 1994, police arrested him again for the crime. While Berry was in juvenile detention, he heard that 15-year-old Tauheed Lloyd had admitted involvement in the murder. Berry confronted Lloyd, who was also in the detention center on an unrelated robbery charge, and asked him to tell police that Berry was not involved. Lloyd refused.

Several months later, police arrested Lloyd after he was found in possession of a handgun that was linked through ballistic testing to the murder. Lloyd, apparently believing that he had been fingered by Berry, then implicated Berry in the crime. Lloyd agreed to plead guilty and testify for the prosecution. In return, he was sentenced to 15 to 37 years in prison. Berry was arrested in September 1994 and charged as an adult with murder, robbery, conspiracy, and possessing instruments of a crime.

In September 1995, Berry went to trial in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Brooks’s testimony was conflicting. She variously identified Berry as the person who held the door shut during the robbery, as well as identifying him as the gunman. She also said Berry was not involved in the crime and that she told police as much prior to trial.

Lloyd testified and said that he and Berry had committed the crime.

On September 22, 1995, the jury convicted Berry of murder, robbery, possessing instruments of a crime, and conspiracy. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 2002, years after his convictions were upheld on appeal, Berry received a letter from Lloyd admitting that he had lied and that he knew Berry was not involved in the crime. In 2004, Lloyd signed an affidavit under oath saying that he falsely implicated Berry because he believed Berry told the prosecution about Lloyd’s admission in the juvenile detention center that he took part in the crime.

Berry’s lawyer, Robert Gamburg, filed a post-conviction petition for a new trial and was granted a hearing. In 2007, Lloyd was prepared to testify via a videoconference. However, the judge conducting the hearing became concerned that Lloyd was opening himself up to a perjury prosecution, so he appointed a lawyer to represent Lloyd and continued the hearing.

When the hearing resumed in 2008, Lloyd invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to implicate himself and refused to testify.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Miller v. Alabama, ruled that mandatory life without parole sentences imposed on juveniles were unconstitutional. In January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court further ruled, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, that its holding in Miller was retroactive.

As a result, in February 2018, Berry, while still maintaining his innocence, was resentenced to 23 years to life in prison. The reduced sentence made him immediately eligible for parole, prompting Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara McDermott to note that Berry could “continue to fight (to prove his innocence) on the street instead of in prison.” On August 14, 2018, Berry was released.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit was reviewing Berry’s case that by then included a statement from a prison inmate, Bryant Miles, who said that Russell “Cube” Winston admitted that he and Lloyd committed the crime and that Lloyd was the gunman. Gamburg also had obtained statements from two people who were in the juvenile detention center in 1994 and heard Lloyd say he was going to falsely implicate Berry.

On June 24, 2019, the convictions were vacated and the charges were dismissed. Assistant District Attorney Tom Gates told Judge McDermott that had the prosecution allowed Lloyd to testify at the post-conviction hearing in 2008 without the threat of being prosecuted for perjury, Berry would have been granted a new trial.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 6/27/2019
State:Pennsylvania
County:Philadelphia
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery, Illegal Use of a Weapon, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:1994
Convicted:1995
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:16
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No