Were They Thinking?
County district attorney drops questionable case
In 2005, Bryan Berry and Terrence Battiste were charged by
federal prosecutors for armed robbery in connection with their
activities with a gang who robbed area drug dealers in 2001
and 2002. In 2002, around the time this gang was operating,
Samuel Holley and his girlfriend, Arica Schneider, were found
murdered in their Brunswick Road apartment. Holley was an
alleged drug dealer, so it made sense to federal investigators
that the double murder was a botched robbery that ended badly.
Fred Rench, a lawyer for Berry, said that federal investigators
informed him in 2005 that Berry and Battiste were the prime
suspects in the murders. Both men have maintained their innocence
since the beginning, even when threatened with the death penalty
and offered deals by Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pericak.
men were never going to make a deal,” said Rench. “Bill Pericak
threatened to invoke the death penalty in this case, and each
guy said ‘No, you’ve got to kill me.’ ” Rench said it is very
rare for codefendants to refuse a deal to testify against
one another in a case where the possibility of the death penalty
Pericak stopped pursuing the case against Berry and Battiste
and it was turned over to the Rensselaer County district attorney’s
office, which at the time was headed by Patricia DeAngelis.
Her office indicted the pair in 2007, based largely on the
testimony of a jailhouse informant named Izel Dickerson. However,
his testimony in 2007 did not match his testimony during pretrial
hearings in January of this year, when he was called as a
witness by the defense. This discrepancy was the basis for
the current district attorney, Richard McNally, dropping the
charges against Berry and Battiste last Friday.
Other facts surrounding Dickerson’s testimony call into question
why he was used as a witness by DeAngelis’ office in the first
place. Dickerson told prosecutors in 2007 that Berry confessed
to the murders while they were incarcerated together in a
Washington County jail. But during the time the confession
allegedly happened, Dickerson was already testifying for the
district attorney’s office in a separate murder trial in which
he received time off his sentence for a host of convictions.
Also, according to Rench, Dickerson was charged for crimes
in Rensselaer County, but somehow wound up in Berry’s cell
in Washington County where he eventually testified against
Berry. Given these facts, Rench called the use of Dickerson’s
the exact same moment that Izel Dickerson is bunkmates with
Mr. Berry in Washington County, Mr. Dickerson is being debriefed
by the Rensselaer County district attorney’s office on another
homicide,” said Rench. “That’s a little bit curious.”
McNally said that while he doesn’t suspect anyone in the investigation
did anything sinister, the use of Dickerson’s testimony was
something that “raised eyebrows.”
had some real difficulty with that when it was brought to
my attention,” said McNally, but he had no choice but to take
over, as years of work and thousands of pages of documents
were compiled during the course of the investigation.
I have presented this case to a grand jury? I don’t know,
I wasn’t there at that time,” said McNally. “Twenty-twenty
hindsight tells me probably not. But I wasn’t there when that
decision was made. It was Patricia DeAngelis and her office.”
DeAngelis could not be reached for comment.
Another compelling point brought by the defense was that the
murder weapons were steak knives found at the scene, likely
taken from Holley’s kitchen, which both McNally and Rench
characterized as “weapons of opportunity.” Murder by steak
knife does not fit with the MO of the gang that was robbing
drug dealers in 2001 and 2002. Rench said he believes the
murderer was one “crack-crazed” individual whom Holley knew
and sold drugs to in the past.
The case against Berry and Battiste was also dropped because
a suspect who evaded detection for eight years, Michael Mosely,
was identified in February of this year, four days before
jury selection was to begin in the trial of Battiste.
reason why these things happen is most jurors have difficulty
believing that so many people could be pressured into lying,”
said Terrence Battiste’s attorney, Trey Smith. “In my opinion,
to indict that case was prosecutorial malpractice.”
the case against Battiste and Berry is dismissed,” said McNally.
“But the case against Michael Mosely gets better every day.”
loose ends this week-