LAWRENCEVILLE, Va. – A jury found Darnesha Berry guilty on lesser charges than she originally faced in the deaths of twin newborns 17 years ago. Berry, 37, was originally charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of felony murder and two counts of child neglect.
The jury deliberated about five hours and determined that Berry was guilty on two counts of felony involuntary manslaughter and
guilty on two counts of child neglect in the deaths of the twin newborns. The first-degree murder charges were dropped.
A jury recommended that Berry spend eight years in prison and pay a $50,000 fine. Berry, who was taken directly to jail from court, may get credit for time served.
Berry will be formally sentenced on May 28 at 9 a.m. in Lawrenceville. That's when the judge can follow the jury's recommended sentence or make a change to the prison time and/or fine.
Closing arguments began Thursday morning with Brunswick County Commonwealth's Attorney Lezlie Green telling the jury the lives of baby boy and baby girl were not measured by years, they were measured in minutes and marked by shallow breathing and serious injuries. She also asked how any mother could put her babies down a trash chute and hide it for years.
The defense argued that Berry, 19 at the time, panicked when she unexpectedly gave birth in the shower while a student at St. Paul’s College in 1998. The attorney insisted Barry is presumed innocent and no one has proven Berry put the babies in the trash chute, calling the case against Berry "very weak" in terms of evidence.
On the stand Wednesday, Berry recalled the day in February 1998 that she gave birth. She said she left a Valentine’s Day social because she did not feel well. She said she went back to her dorm room and laid down to cope with sharp pains in her stomach. Berry broke down in tears and she described the pain she suffered that night. She said she thought maybe a hot shower would help with the “very painful, consistent pains,” she thought were menstrual cramps. That’s when the first baby fell, and hit the shower of the floor.
Berry said she never suspected she was pregnant. She said she was scared, and looked down at a lifeless blue baby that was not moving. She said the baby did not cry. On the stand, she testified that she did not know how much time had elapsed before the second baby was delivered; just that she remained doubled over in pain as the baby fell to the floor.
Neither baby made a sound, moved, or opened their eyes, she testified.
"I was standing there frozen up against the wall, screaming in agony and nobody came," Berry said.
According to Berry, she made her way to a stall in the bathroom and tried to stop the bleeding. She then made it to her dorm room bed and that is her next memory –waking up in the bed. She said she did not do anything to harm the baby and that she did not know how they ended up in a trash shoot four floors below.
When asked if she did anything to hurt them. She said no and banged her head against the wall “No.”
Her defense lawyer said is this a bad dream; you been living with this nightmare for 17 years?
"Yes sir," she told the defense attorney.