Rico Berry, who is facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of an Edmond toddler, will not testify in his trial.
Tuesday afternoon during his opening statement, defense attorney Mark McCormick said the jury would hear from his client. Since then, the 8-woman, 4-man jury has heard three full days of testimony from a series of witnesses for the state.
In October 2009, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater charged Berry, 28, with first degree murder in the death of Jolen Babakhani, 2, of Edmond. Prosecutors allege that Berry caused injuries to the toddler’s brain, eyes and body, inflicting mortal wounds that caused his death.
Friday afternoon, after the defense did not challenge the state’s last two witnesses — the primary Edmond detective assigned to the case and a pediatric specialist — the state rested.
During the ensuing moments, McCormick and co-defense counsel James Hughes huddled behind the defense table, where Berry was sitting, wearing a dress shirt and tie as he has every day.
After the jury was sent out of the courtroom, Oklahoma County District Judge Glenn Jones asked Berry to approach the bench. He was joined by his attorneys and the prosecutors, Assistant District Attorney Gayland Gieger and ADA Susanne Carlson.
Jones, who had heard of Berry’s decision to not testify from Hughes, asked the defendant several questions to ensure that he made the decision by his own free will. Berry said he did.
The jury was brought back into the courtroom and Hughes said the defense rested. The defense called no witnesses on Berry’s behalf.
The development occurred between 4:30-5 p.m. Jones told the jurors he would have instructions for the jury ready when court resumed at about 10 a.m. Monday. Closing statements would then begin. Jones urged jurors to prepare for a potential long day on Monday, when they will begin deliberations.
Among the witnesses was Edmond Police Detective Michael Chesley, a 16-year veteran with the Edmond Police Department. Chesley has been in the courtroom since the start of the trial, sitting at the prosecution table.
At about 6 p.m. Oct. 13, 2009, Chesley responded to a call about a child not breathing at the Rolling Green apartment complex, 400 E. Danforth Rd., where Sara Babakhani, Jolen’s mother, and the child were living with Berry.
Chesley was assisted by Detective Mark Oak, who went to the hospital to gather information and talk to Jolen’s mother. Chesley learned Berry was Jolen’s sole caregiver that day. Due to suspicious bruising, Chesley suspected there was more to the story than what was initially reported.
Berry voluntarily accompanied Chesley to the police station where he was signed in as a visitor. They went into an interview room. The jury watched a roughly 2-hour video of the interview. The first hour was of Chesley and Berry, the second after Oak had returned from the hospital.
In the video, Berry is heard telling three different stories about what happened that afternoon.
At about 4 p.m. he said he put Jolen down for an afternoon nap. When he went back to check on the child, he found the toddler’s lips were purple. He called Sara to tell her what he found as she was arriving from school at Langston University. They rushed to the car, but saw several police officers there on another matter.
Several times, Berry was asked if there had been any wrestling or rough housing with Jolen. Each time he said there had not. When asked if he ever disciplined Jolen he said had not. Chesley asked him if Sara trusted him with her son. He said she did.
“I treat her son the same way I treat my daughter,” Berry said.
Chesley reviews the timeline. Berry’s responses are virtually the same. Again he denies there was any rough housing. “What do you think happened to him?” the detective asked.
“I have no idea,” Berry said.
He said when he laid Jolen down he was fine. Then he said he should have been watching him the way he watches his daughter.
Detective Oak returns from the hospital where he spoke with Jolen’s mother. Oak said Jolen’s not doing well, not well at all.
“This is going to be a big deal for you,” Oak said.
The detectives press Berry, explain that Jolen did not injure himself this severely. They encouraged him to come clean, tell them what happened. They continue to press him as he remained silent.
“I don’t know if he’s going to make it through the night,” Oak said.
The detectives tell Berry they don’t think he’s a bad person. They think things got out of hand. They urged him to tell the truth for the mother’s sake, for his sake. Chesley said Jolen didn’t stop breathing on his own.
“Be honest and tell us what happened,” Chesley said.
After saying he didn’t do anything, Berry claims Jolen fell down the stairs outside the second story apartment. The detectives say the story doesn’t agree with the injuries — bruising on the neck below the jawline, bruising on his forehead and back and bleeding in and on his brain.
Berry described picking up Jolen and throwing him down onto the couch, bouncing off the cushion and falling onto the floor. The process was repeated after Jolen said he was OK, Berry said. One time, Jolen’s head hit the coffee table, he said.
The state medical examiner’s office ruled Jolen’s death was a homicide, resulting from head trauma, causing a subdural hematoma. A subdural hematoma is a type of blood clot or clots that often result from a skull fracture. As Marc Harrison, a forensic pathologist with the state medical examiner’s office testified, jurors viewed a series of graphic autopsy photographs depicting exterior injuries and injuries inside Jolen’s skull.
Medical personnel attending to Jolen did not believe based on the extensive bruising and damage to the toddler’s head that the injuries could have been caused accidentally, witnesses testified. At the hospital, it was learned the toddler did not have any type of brain activity.
Jurors also heard from Morris Gessouroun, M.D., a pediatric critical care specialist at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center. Gessouroun testified about Jolen’s absence of brain or brainstem function, about retinal hemorrhaging, abnormal bleeding of the vessels in his retinas, the inside surfaces of the back of the eye, the bruising and the subdural hematoma, a collection of blood on the surface of the brain and brain swelling.
When asked if those injuries would be consistent with Berry’s description of rough housing Gessouroun said they were not, that more force would be needed.
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Rico Berry, who is facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of an Edmond toddler, will not testify in his trial.
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North baseballers aid kindergartners
North High School sophomore baseball player Tyler Bowen helps Ida Freeman kindergartners Dakota Prince and Jorge Campuzano pick out a book. Each student received a book, a Christmas cookie and juice and then the baseball team members read to the students.
Rollover crash closes part of north Edmond street
A section of a street in northwest Edmond was closed Thursday afternoon while personnel worked the site of a rollover crash.
The crash occurred along a partly snow-covered stretch of Sorghum Mill Road just west of the Santa Fe-Sorghum Mill intersection. Police, EMSA and fire rescue personnel were working the scene. Both lanes of Sorghum Mill were closed at the time.
Information on injuries or the cause were not immediately available.
Feds indict 3 accused in tag agency thefts
Suspects accused of burglarizing several metro tag agencies including one in Edmond now face federal charges, court records show.
Wednesday, the U.S. District Court, Western District of Oklahoma, released the complaint filed against William Robert Donovan, 40, of Edmond, Richard Bruce Traver, 27, listed as homeless, and Amanda D. Sizemore. Her address information was not available.
Donovan and Traver, who are both in custody at the Oklahoma County jail, and Sizemore, who is not yet in custody, face government allegations of conspiracy to commit offenses against the U.S., aiding and abetting bank fraud and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft.
If convicted, each defendant faces significant prison time, fines or both.
Defense counsel information was not listed. An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In the complaint, grand jurors allege that earlier this year, beginning in or before March and continuing through at least June the defendants conspired to commit bank fraud in violation of federal law.
OC will award degrees at winter commencement
Oklahoma Christian University will present 87 undergraduate degrees and 85 graduate degrees at its winter commencement ceremonies Friday and Saturday.
The undergraduate degree candidates come from 16 states and seven countries and majored in a combined 36 academic disciplines at Oklahoma Christian. The master’s degree candidates come from six states and 10 countries, and represent 14 graduate areas of study.
Jim Baird, director of OC’s Honors Program, will deliver the undergraduate commencement address on Friday. Byron Newberry, chair of Oklahoma Christian’s Graduate School of Engineering, will keynote Saturday’s graduate ceremony.
In addition to his director’s role with the Honors Program, Baird is a professor of Bible and philosophy at Oklahoma Christian. He also has served as the preaching minister at Wilshire Church of Christ since 2000. His father, James O. Baird, was Oklahoma Christian’s second president.
Touchmark residents give ‘thumbs up’ to new YMCA
Senior citizens from Touchmark bundled up, braved the cold and the icy roads this week and traveled to the Edmond YMCA Recreation & Aquatic Center at Mitch Park on Covell.
The tour group was one of more than 100 that have been guided through the new facility to show what will be available when it is finished. This $22.5 million facility is a joint project with the the Edmond School District, the City of Edmond and the YMCA.
Joining the group and donning hard hats were Touchmark residents Ellie Lottinville, Judith Harris, Jimmie Cook, John Wayant and Richard Newville along with Carla Scull, Touchmark’s director of life enrichment, and Jesse Walls, driver.
Guthrie-Edmond airport looks to upgrade
The Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport board was told Tuesday by officials from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission that GERA is in good shape but work needs to continue to help maximize everything the airport has to offer.
The board was given a presentation by OAC director Vic Bird and Dale Williams, OAC planning division manager about the state of the aviation industry in Oklahoma and how airports the size of GERA are faring.
AAA: Teens report ‘TWD’ significantly less than adults
High school-aged teens report using their phones or texting while driving substantially less often than adults do, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
While the public often cites teens as being the most common offenders, a recent survey found that adult drivers ages 25-39 were the most likely to admit engaging in these risky behaviors behind the wheel.
Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, said young novice drivers, who are especially susceptible to distracted driving crashes, are using their phones while driving less than older drivers.
AAA to offer free Tipsy Tow rides
Before climbing behind the wheel after drinking at a holiday party, AAA Oklahoma hopes you’ll think again and call them for a free Tipsy Tow ride home for you, your vehicle and one more person.
“Over Christmas and New Year’s, up to 40 percent of all traffic crashes involve alcohol,” said Edmond resident Chuck Mai, spokesman for AAA Oklahoma. “But motorists do have options: Use a designated driver, serve non-alcoholic mocktails at parties or call AAA for a Tipsy Tow.”
Paycom plans HoliDazzle event to benefit Warmth 4 Winter Coat Drive
Paycom has teamed with News Channel 4, The Salvation Army and Rotary Club of South Oklahoma City to host HoliDazzle, a free event at Remington Park on Thursday to kick-off the annual Warmth 4 Winter coat drive.
Parents and children are encouraged to bring a new or gently used coat from 3:30-7:30 p.m. to help ensure that every child and adult stays warm during Oklahoma’s harsh winter months. Those who contribute are encouraged to enjoy an afternoon of holiday fun with train rides, pictures with Santa, hot cocoa and cookies.
Lilyfield reschedules ‘Dunks for Diapers’
Lilyfield Christian Adoption and Foster Care has rescheduled its Dunks for Diapers event.
Lilyfield holds a diaper drive with the Oklahoma Christian University Women’s basketball team to benefit foster children. Anyone bringing diapers, wipes or new baby items for ages 0-24 months will gain free admission to the women’s game versus Lubbock Christian University, which will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Eagles’ Nest on the campus of Oklahoma Christian in Edmond.
“This will allow us to give foster families much-needed necessities when they receive placement of a foster child. Often placements happen with little notice and the child may come into a foster home with nothing but the clothes they are wearing,” said Holly Towers, executive director of Lilyfield Christian Adoption and Foster Care.
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