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Boston and Beyond

August 25, 2013

Woman seeks 3rd trial in cinder block death

BOSTON (AP) — Sheila Berry won a new trial after she was convicted of fatally beating an acquaintance over the head with a cinder block so many times that the block broke into 18 pieces.

The highest court in Massachusetts ruled that jury instructions given at her trial “created a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice” because the jury could have believed that her insanity defense was invalid because she voluntarily drank alcohol the night of the killing.

The court’s revised model jury instructions in such cases indicate a defendant can be found legally insane if jurors believe a mental disease became activated or intensified by drugs or alcohol and caused the defendant to lose the capacity to understand right from wrong.

During her retrial, Berry was again convicted of first-degree murder. But her lawyer is now set to go before the high court next month to argue that she should get a third trial because the judge failed to strike the testimony of a prosecution expert who the defense says misstated the law and told jurors that Berry’s consumption of alcohol the day of the killing essentially forfeited her insanity defense.

Berry was convicted in the 2002 death of Admilson Goncalves, an acquaintance who tried to calm Berry after she got into a heated argument with another man outside a neighborhood variety store in Brockton. Berry took Goncalves’ bicycle, and witnesses testified they later saw her repeatedly hit him in the head with the block.

During her first trial in 2006, experts testifying for the defense said Berry lacked criminal responsibility for her actions because she had bipolar disorder, had received a serious head injury at the age of 14, had numerous psychiatric hospitalizations in the previous 10 years and had a brain tumor at the time of the killing. There was also evidence that she had had two or three large glasses of rum the day Goncalves was killed.

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