SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – It’s a special Independence Day for a Las Vegas man who has spent the last two decades in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit. Thanks to a team of lawyers here in Salt Lake City, Demarlo Berry is now free.
Sitting next to his wife Odilia of seven years, Demarlo Berry thanked those who fought for his release and proved his innocence.
“If they weren’t as thorough as they were, we wouldn’t be here. Nobody would be concerned about me or anything. I’d just be another number in prison so I’m really grateful to them and they’re the heroes for today,” Berry told reporters during a press conference on Friday after his release.
A professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law talked to Good4Utah’s Brittany Johnson about Berry’s case.
“This case was particularly powerful,” said Jensie Anderson.
In addition to being a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, Anderson oversees a team of lawyers with the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, a non-profit that looks at cases where individuals have been wrongfully convicted in Utah, Nevada and Wyoming.
Anderson thought back to the year 2011 when Berry wrote her a letter about his case.
“We looked at his case and we saw that there were some of the earmarks of wrongful conviction. There were 13 eyewitness identifications in that case and all of them were different. Mistaken eyewitness ID is the leading cause of wrongful conviction in this country. In addition, there was an incentivised jailhouse informant which is another earmark of wrongful conviction — about 15 percent of wrongful convictions involve what we call jailhouse snitches — it’s the leading cause of wrongful conviction in death penalty cases, and we thought their might be DNA evidence in the case. There was enough wrong with it that we thought we should look at it,” Anderson explained.
This all started back in 1995 when Berry found out through an anonymous tip that he was a suspect in a Nevada murder.
“He heard the police were looking for him and went into the police and said ‘why are you looking for me, I haven’t done anything.’ Despite that, they put him into jail,” said Anderson.
Four years ago another man, now in prison for a separate murder, admitted to Anderson that he was responsible for the 1995 murder.
“We walked in the door and told him why we were there and he said, ‘I’ve been waiting for 15 years for you to come. I only found out that there was someone else in prison for a crime that I committed and I didn’t know who to tell,’ ” Anderson said.
In addition to that confession, the man Anderson referred to as the ‘jailhouse snitch’ earlier in the story, recanted his testimony and admitted that he fabricated evidence under the guidance of police.
“Mr. Berry did the right thing. It was the system that failed him,” said Anderson.
After years of waiting and legal battles, Berry is now a free man and ready to enjoy the next chapter of his life.
“It was rough. It was hard but it’s over. God is good,” Odilia Berry, Demarlo’s wife said, with a huge grin on her face.