IM this article to a friend!

July 20, 2005

Mistakenly Released, Deaf Man Returned To Custody

From: Mercury-Register, CA - Jul 20, 2005

THE CASE: Robert Lee Berry, 51, was charged with more than a dozen counts of using his disability to obtain prescription drugs fraudulently.

THE PLEA BARGAIN: Prosecutors said they agreed to drop all but one of the local counts last month because the deaf suspect was facing far more serious allegations on the East Coast.

THE LATEST: While awaiting sentencing in the local drug case, Berry was inadvertently released from jail on Monday for one day after those other jurisdictions indicated they now do not plan to extradite him.

TERRY VAU DELL/MediaNews Group

A deaf man facing charges in two other states won short-lived freedom after he was inadvertently released from the Butte County Jail, Monday.

Robert Lee Berry, 51, was freed after jail officials were informed that the other jurisdictions now don't plan to extradite him.

Berry, who was also being held pending sentencing on local drug charges, called the Butte County Superior Court on Tuesday to say he was at a motel in Oroville.

After Berry was brought into court later that morning, Judge Gerald Hermansen remanded him back into custody without bail in the local drug case.

The deaf man had been facing more than a dozen counts of using his disability to fraudulently obtain prescription drugs from several local pharmacies.

All but one of the felony counts were dropped in a plea-bargain last month.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey said he only agreed to the plea-bargain because he was assured Berry would be extradited back to New York and Massachusetts, where he faced "far more serious charges," including child molestation.

Because the prescription drug counts involved the "same pattern of conduct," Ramsey said Berry unlikely would have received consecutive sentences even had he been convicted on all of the local charges.

When his court case was called Tuesday morning, the judge seemed frankly surprised that Berry had been released from custody while awaiting sentencing.

According to court records, Berry was being held in the county jail on two no-bail fugitive of justice warrants.

One related to allegations that he defrauded "numerous" persons primarily in deaf communities in that state, said Ramsey.

According to Berry's attorney, Dennis Hoptowit, the hearing-impaired man was also being held pending extradition to Massachusetts on separate child molestation charges.

Deputy district attorney Lynda Passmore said the jail received a fax from New York authorities on Monday, indicating they had decided not to extradite Berry.

The jail released him Monday night after being informed that Massachusetts also did not plan to seek extradition.

On Tuesday, the judge ordered the New York warrant lifted, but agreed to postpone action on the fugitive of justice warrant out of Massachusetts until the court gets written confirmation of its position concerning Berry.

Evie Joseph, Berry's court-appointed private investigator, said she went to a Motel 6 in Oroville with a sign-language interpreter to retrieve a "confused" Berry Tuesday morning.

"He seemed not to understand why he was released from jail before his cases had been resolved," said Joseph.

She said the deaf man was wearing the pair of "scrub" pants, T-shirt and tennis shoes that he had on when he was originally arrested.

With no money or a place to stay, Berry had managed to contact a former cellmate who loaned him enough to get a room at the Oroville motel overnight.

The motel permitted the deaf man to use its special keypad-equipped telephone to call a hearing-impaired operator so he could notify the court Tuesday of his whereabouts.

When Joseph picked him up at the motel to return him to court, the investigator said Berry, who is a diabetic, was "very pale and sweaty." She said he told her he hadn't had anything to eat or any medicine since he got out of jail.

The investigator took up a collection in court Tuesday to buy the deaf man some crackers, a candy bar and a soda before he was returned to custody.

"I think Mr. Berry showed real integrity," said the defense investigator.

"If that had been any other of my clients, they would have been in the wind."

© 2005 Oroville Mercury-Register