GALLIPOLIS — After nearly seven months of investigation and court proceedings, Richard Hurt, 47, of Gallipolis, was sentenced by the Gallia County Court of Common Pleas to four years in a state facility after he pleaded guilty in early February to the act of dismembering Gallia resident Jessica Berry.
Hurt pleaded guilty of his own accord with no plea arrangement offered to the third-degree felony of tampering with evidence and the fifth-degree crime of abuse of a corpse. Hurt was sentenced to three years for the third-degree felony and one year for the fifth-degree felony with sentences to run consecutively by Gallia Common Pleas Judge Margaret Evans.
“It’s been 225 days today since Tammy (Taylor, Berry’s mother) has seen her daughter alive,” said Gallia Prosecutor Jason Holdren. “I think it’s important, Judge, to go through the facts and somewhat of a timeline so the court and everyone understands the seriousness of Mr. Hurt’s actions in this case.”
According to Holdren, July 18, 2016 Jamie Lambert and Hurt picked up Jessica Berry from her mother’s home in Gallipolis and Berry took clothes for a few days. Hurt had given a statement saying he wanted to see two women engage in sexual activity, according to Holdren. That was the arranged plan, according to Holdren, for Hurt, Lambert and Berry to engage in such that evening. The three proceeded to a home on White Road in Gallia County. Berry and Lambert went into the bathroom of that home and used heroin to the point that Berry became unresponsive and overdosed. Lambert assisted her in coming out of that overdose. Holdren said she was fine the rest of the evening. Berry stayed the night on White Road.
July 19, 2016, Berry took additional drugs, according to Holdren. She became unresponsive and Hurt tried to resuscitate her by putting her in a bath. At some point, she died. An Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation analysis of Hurt’s cell phone shows that at 11:30 p.m. of that day, he searched what to do if someone had overdosed with heroin. Hurt later made a statement, said Holdren, to law enforcement “I should have taken this girl to the ER.”
“At some point, in the evening of July 19 to the morning hours of July 20, Mr. Hurt realizes that (Berry) is dead,” said Holdren. “Thereafter, she is dismembered, placed in black trash bags and eventually buried at … Abby Lane in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. On July 22, which was a Friday, Hurt called (the residence owner). Hurt had done work on the property in the past … They had a conversation in 2015 that (the owner) would be interested in having the old deck removed and replaced behind her garage. When (the residence owner) spoke to law enforcement, she indicated she had received a phone call from Hurt July 22, 2016. During the conversation, Hurt told (the owner) he was going to go ahead and start tearing out the deck. (The owner) stated she did not want that done at that point, but he did it anyway.”
Holdren would go on to say that on July 23, 2016, Hurt’s cellphone showed a picture of a hole freshly dug in the backyard behind the garage of the home. Holdren would display a photo of the hole after Berry’s form was discovered.
“Judge, all the while, Mr. Hurt continued life as normal,” said Holdren. “He was employed at Kyger Creek. I understand one of the things the court will look at is his exemplary work record and his (military) service to the country. My comments should not be interpreted that I am diminishing any of those things. But after doing this, he was able to work July 22, 2016, July 26, 2016 and July 29, 2016, all those days at Kyger Creek as if nothing had happened.”
The defense offered no objection while Holdren addressed the court.
Holdren continued that on July 24 the same year, six days after Taylor had seen her daughter last, she reported Berry missing. Taylor was also concerned because Berry had also been addicted to heroin and had only two Narcan opioid revival kits left. Berry had overdosed previously eight times.
July 29, Holdren said, was important because Hurt encountered law enforcement. After dismembering the body and taking it to West Virginia, he said to law enforcement he had picked Berry up from the White Road residence and taken her to a VFW post. Berry left his vehicle and he had not made contact with her since, Holdren said according to statements taken from Hurt.
“He goes on to mislead the (Gallia) Sheriff’s Office,” said Holdren. Holdren said someone Hurt knew had told him Berry had been seen and did not want to talk with her family. Holdren said this created a deception that there was an issue in Berry’s family and she was simply staying away from them.
“July 30, a report was made to law enforcement from Abbey Lane in Point Pleasant that possible human remains were found,” said Holdren. “(The Point Pleasant homeowner) had received a phone call and said Hurt had called her and asked if she would be going home alone. (The owner) was gone for a few days. (The owner) thought it was odd for Hurt to ask that. (The owner) advised she returned home and called Hurt at 3:39 p.m. (The owner) advised that she asked Hurt to come to her residence to talk to him. (The owner) advised Hurt told her he had a lot going on and would not be coming over. (The owner) stated she went out to her garage and opened the door which leads to the deck. Upon opening the door, she detected an odor. (The owner) advised the floor portion of the deck had been neatly placed in its original location.”
The owner made contact with another individual she knew through work. Both discussed hearing about the previous investigation being run by the Gallia Sheriff’s Office in search of Berry. Both women became suspicious due to Hurt’s recent behavior. Daughters of the homeowner inspected the floor portions where the deck behind the garage had been replaced before happening upon the grave site.
“Mr. Hurt, without being asked, went over, removed the deck, but kept one piece intact to place it over the grave, ” Holdren said.
According to statements, Hurt drove by the location several times the following day to see if the body had been discovered before being picked up by West Virginia law enforcement. He later made a confession. Holdren said Hurt confessed to tearing down the deck to bury the body and intended to build another deck over the grave.
The grave, according to Holdren, was four feet deep and three feet wide. The grave was covered with lime and dirt. Holdren said reports said that cuts made to Berry’s body were made after she had passed. The report also said there were no obvious signs of injury on the body. Autopsy records acquired by Ohio Valley Publishing listed the reason of death to be undetermined.
“The purposes of sentencing are to protect the public from future crime from the offender and to punish the offender,” Holdren said. “I believe you would be hard-pressed to think of facts that are more heinous and egregious than what we’ve got here. Judge, this case has shined a very bright light on several things. One is that drugs, specifically heroin, are stealing away our loved ones in this county. Mr. Hurt knows that … Yet, he takes advantage of those addicted to heroin, to play out and fulfill his fantasy. The other issue that comes to light is that the penalty in this case does not come close to fitting the crime. I’ve talked to Tammy on many instances. She is committed as am I to working with our legislation to change this because this is a true injustice. The only sentence appropriate in this is a maximum prison term to run consecutively. No parent ever wants to bury a child, let alone knowing the child was treated in such a manner.”
Jessica’s sister, Dawn Berry, would give Taylor’s statement to the court.
“Why did you do that?,” said Dawn, uttering her mother’s words. “What you have done to my daughter, how can you live with yourself? How can you sleep at night knowing what you did? How can you sit there and say what you say when you dismembered my daughter’s body? You know how many lives you have affected. … What if someone did that to you, to your daughter, dismember their body? How would you feel about that? This is from November 2016. This holiday season is grey because one of our family is not here to celebrate with us. Her name is Jessica Berry, because her life was cut short at the age of 32. She has three children that have had to have Thanksgiving and Christmas without their mother and it is hard. They never thought this would happen to our family. Now we have to try to get through the holidays best we can. It makes me sad because this person (Hurt) gets to spend his holiday with his family because he is out walking the street and because my daughter is gone because of him. I do believe God will help us through this and make him pay for what he has done.”
“Nothing I can say explains the outrageousness and stupidity of these acts,” said defense counsel Ronald Janes. “I can only remind the court that if the narrative is correct, although he misled law enforcement on July 29, 2016, within 48 hours later, Mr. Hurt, when confronted by West Virginia authorities admitted and accepted responsibility for his actions. That starts to say something positive about this senseless, stupid, irrational behavior.”
Janes referenced Hurts willingness to continue to cooperate with authorities during his incarceration time.
Evans would ask Hurt if he wished to address the court.
“I would like to say …. I reckon address the court,” said Hurt. “But on my behalf, I would like to apologize to the family. I know it’s a hard time.”
“No, you don’t,” said Taylor from the crowd. Evans would beckon her to remain silent during Hurt’s remarks.
“I accept responsibility for my actions,” continued Hurt. “I do wish to say I am sorry to the family.”
In accordance with Ohio Revised Code stipulations, and what Evans felt were issues previously handled in the Gallipolis Municipal Court, she sentenced Hurt to the full term of four years in prison as well as post release control stipulations. Hurt was then taken away by Gallia County deputies in cuffs.
Hurt still faces a charge of concealment of a deceased human body in West Virginia as well as a pending civil suit in the Gallia County courts brought forth by Taylor.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103