A Prince George County man who shot himself Thursday after appearing in court, and learning that authorities were preparing to charge him with a 41st child pornography charge, has died of his injuries.
James Paul Berry III, 62, was declared dead Friday at 5 p.m., said Debra Corcoran, his attorney.
Corcoran said the additional charge and a police search of his home — the second since he was initially charged in July — apparently sent Berry over the edge. “I think that was just a little bit too much and more than he could take,” she said.
In defending the decision to charge Berry with a 41st offense, Prince George Commonwealth’s Attorney Susan Fierro noted that the new count was a more serious offense of producing child pornography, whereas the 40 earlier charges involved possession of the material.
“As part of the investigation of the [original] possession charges, there were a lot of items to look at after we brought the [earlier] charges,” Fierro explained. “The investigation continued, and this [new] evidence was uncovered. And because it’s a very different thing to produce and make child pornography versus possess it, that’s why we brought the charge.”
Producing child pornography carries a tougher punishment upon conviction, Fierro noted.
“If the child who is the subject of the pornography is under 15 years old, the penalty is five to 30 years in prison, and in this circumstance it would have had a five-year mandatory minimum.”
Corcoran said she understands the prosecution’s position, “but they have had this case for some time, and extensive forensics were already performed on the devices police seized” from Berry in July.
“I would say that heightened and or additional charges happen in about 95 percent of the child pornography cases prosecuted,” Corcoran said. “This puts defendants under more stress, much more than they were already under.”
“People charged with child pornography are a class of defendants with a greater suicide risk,” she added. “I am always mindful of this. With respect to Mr. Berry, I think he felt suicide was his only option. This was so terrible, especially for the friends and family he left behind who cared about him — of which I understand there were many.”
Last Thursday, Berry appeared in Prince George Circuit Court for a motions hearing in his case stemming from his indictment in July on 40 counts of possessing child pornography.
Corcoran said last week that she learned from the prosecutor handling his case that he was intending to serve Berry with another indictment in the courtroom and ask a judge to revoke his bond.
Corcoran said that after she told Berry the news — and that she would seek to keep him out of jail on bond — he left the courthouse, saying he was going outside to have a smoke.
But when he didn’t return after 10 to 15 minutes, his absence became conspicuous. A short time later, she and the prosecutor learned Berry had shot himself outside his trailer home in the 3800 block of Puddledock Road.
Prince George police spokeswoman Sgt. Alexis Grochmal said officers responded to Berry’s home about 12:10 p.m. to serve him with a new indictment related to producing child pornography.
An officer on scene observed him standing outside his residence, and as the officer started talking with him, Berry retrieved a handgun from his clothing, Grochmal said.
As Berry turned away from the officer, gunfire was heard, and the officer discovered Berry lying on the ground with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The officer did not fire his service weapon, Grochmal said.
A spokesman for the state medical examiner’s office said Monday that he does not yet have a ruling to provide on Berry’s cause and manner of death.
Berry’s body was harvested for organ donation, his attorney said.