Sunday, 4 November 2007

Berry's parents reflect on years of sorrow

11/3/2007 4:50:24 AM
Daily Journal

Velma Berry of Mantee

By Galen Holley
Daily Journal

MANTEE - The 72-year-old mother of murderer Earl Wesley Berry says there's one thing she wants people to know: "We're not angry, not bitter - we just appreciate the prayer and love for our son."

Sitting beside William, her husband of 56 years, Velma Berry talked Friday about their son and what their lives have been like while he spent the past 19 years in prison.

Some might think the Berrys' statement about not being angry is coming from the wrong people. After all, their son was convicted of - and confessed to - the brutal murder of 56-year-old Mary Bounds of Houston in 1987. Tuesday, Berry was making final preparations for his scheduled execution by lethal injection when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a stay.

His parents have been publicly silent until now. But Velma said she felt compelled to respond after Mary Bounds' husband, Charles, erupted with emotion after the execution was halted. He was quoted as threatening to kill Earl if he ever were released from prison.

"That's just not Christian," said Velma.

The Berrys were at the state penitentiary at Parchman on Tuesday, where their son was scheduled to die at 6 p.m. As the hours ticked by, the Berrys felt as if his final moments were on public display.

During their visit that day, she said, "We had spoken with him a little." As he had done over the years, he ended their conversation early, saying "It's time for y'all to go."

Velma and William left their son, having no idea that a last-second reprieve was about to be issued because of questions about the lethal injection method of execution. They spent what they thought were his last moments in the Parchman Chapel, reflecting on their son's life.

Looking back

"He was a kind-hearted, loving person," Velma said in the living room of the Berrys' Mantee home. "Everyone loved him."

William added that as a large, strong boy, Earl enjoyed rugged repasts such as sports, hunting and racing.

However, Earl struggled in school. Throughout his son's youth, William took him to "every kind of special school imaginable" for what they considered a learning disability.

"A doctor said that he had the mental capacity of a 7-year-old," said William, referring to an assessment made during Earl's trial in Chickasaw County.

By their own admission, the events are foggy surrounding the night of Mary Bounds' murder, as is the little information their son has disclosed to them.

Sitting in her favorite chair, Velma displayed a picture of her son at 19 years old - a stocky boy, with long, thick hair falling over hulking shoulders and wearing a camouflage T-shirt.

"This was taken at rehab," she said, adding that Earl struggled with alcohol since an early age.

"People could talk him into anything," said William.

Childhood companions once convinced Earl to dive out of a tree into a pond. "He busted a hole in his head," said William. It was not unusual for Earl's friends to talk him into picking a fight.

The Berrys said that intoxicating substances and suspect companions were mingling the night of the murder. "They were drinking," recalled Velma. "He and his younger brother got into a fight, and one of them got their teeth knocked out."

According to William, his son later was passed out in the back seat of a vehicle as two other men drove to Earl's sister-in-law's house. "She ran them off because they were rowdy," said Velma. After that, things get even blurrier.

William, a retired farmer, said that in the 20 years since, Earl has kept his parents at arm's length, telling them very little of what happened and insisting that he "doesn't remember."

Velma and William say they believe him.

However, Earl does remember and has related to his parents what he claims was unjust treatment at the hands of the authorities. "They kept him in there for hours and hours and, eventually, he just blurted out" that he did it, said William.

The Berrys insist that a mixture of their son's mental simplicity, questionable informants and an unfair jury combined to convict their son.

However, the Berrys have not ruled out the possibility of his guilt.

"We just want to know the truth," said William, nudging a tabby cat and recalling his son's fondness for animals. The Berrys say they can understand the anger of Charles Bounds and know that the loss must be devastating to his family.

As she and her husband perused a photograph album, Velma added: "Twenty years is an awfully long time to hurt. We've hurt. We know that he hurts."

Their wish is that - guilty or not - their son's death is not added to the tragedy of Mary Bounds.

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or

No comments: