Mother of Johnia Berry says she'll talk with anyone who can help

Mother of Johnia Berry says she'll talk with anyone who can help

Joan Berry says she won't rest until her daughter's killer is found. Joan Berry says she won't rest until her daughter's killer is found.
One CD found at the crime scene is NSYNC's "No Strings Attached" with the initials "M L" on it. One CD found at the crime scene is NSYNC's "No Strings Attached" with the initials "M L" on it.
Composite sketch of suspect Composite sketch of suspect

December 6, 2005

By LORI TUCKER
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- One year after 21 year old Johnia Berry was brutally murdered, her mother talks about the lingering questions in the unsolved crime and how she wants to help.

"There's no words to explain what this year's been like. There's just not any," Joan Berry says. Her daughter had only been in Knoxville for six weeks and was about to start her master's at UT. "Our house is very empty. Our hearts are empty. Johnia was the center of our life. She was our youngest child, kept things hopping at home so we were very close. We were in touch with her six or seven times a day."

Joan Berry says she won't rest until her daughter's killer is found. "I will talk with anybody who thinks they can help me."


Recalling the crime, living with the aftermath

Johnia tried hard to survive after being stabbed countless times in the face, neck and body around 4:00 a.m. December 6, 2004. She rushed into the outer hallway of Brendon Park Apartments, knocking on neighbors' doors. No one answered her pleas for help.

Johnia's roommate, Jason Aymami, was also stabbed but he fled the apartment, calling 911 from a convenience store. He later moved to Colorado.

"I think Jason was very uncomfortable here in Knoxville and I can understand his moving," Joan says. "You don't know if the person is still here that murdered Johnia and attacked Jason. I think you'd always be looking behind to see if someone was close."


Sheriff's office investigation

On November 28, the Knox County Sheriff's Office requested the public's help to identify some stolen items but didn't say they were found at the apartment crime scene. They include a black CD case with several CDs in it. One CD is NSYNC's "No Strings Attached" with the initials "M L" on it.

However, the Johnia Berry blog says, "The CD case and CDs didn't belong to Johnia or her roommate, but were found scattered across the living room. A car stereo was found on the back steps where the killer escaped."

"I was a little disappointed cause I was told all along there would be a press release about the CDs," says Mike Berry, Johnia's step-father. "We'd known about them for a long time. The press release in no way tied it to Johnia's case. No one in the media cared about the CDs being released like that."

Sheriff Tim Hutchison told 6 News Tuesday the car stereo is being compared to DNA samples taken from close to 100 people.

Hutchison says only eight DNA samples out of 100 collected await testing to see if they match blood found at the crime scene.

Hutchison also says the investigation may go back to what officers learned soon after Johnia was killed. A group of young people were breaking into cars and homes, looking for drug money.

"We have retrieved DNA from over 100 people on this case," Hutchison says. "It keeps leading back to some of the ones we first suspected but there again, that may not be the end result. It may not be who actually did this."

Johnia's mother also wants more national exposure and says the sheriff won't sign off to work with "America's Most Wanted." "If he's in another state, then we need nationwide media coverage not just in our local area," she says.

Even though the show has profiled unsolved mysteries, Hutchison says it's not the right forum for this case as it stands now.


Berry family seeks changes in laws

DNA Results are taking too long for Johnia's family. It's led them to seek changes in DNA laws. "We've waited months for DNA laws to change in Tennessee," Joan says. "They don't collect DNA unless you're convicted of a violent crime so we're working on getting DNA laws changed in Tennessee. We've been working with senators and some representatives and hopefully...they promise that'll go when they go back in session in January it'll go on the floor. So hopefully, it'll be passed in January."

Joan Berry lives in Atlanta but makes regular trips and daily phone calls to Knoxville, trying to learn from the sheriff's office where the investigation stands.

She's frustrated that despite two full time investigators on the case, no one is behind bars for the crime. "Nothing surprises me anymore so you could tell me anything and I don't think I'd be surprised ever again," Joan says.


Increased reward and sketch

The reward for information in the case has been increased to $37,000.

In December 2004, the sheriff's office released a sketch of a suspect in Berry's murder. The man, believed to be in his 20's, was wearing an Atlanta Braves baseball hat. He's described as 5' 8" and about 150 pounds. If you recognize this man or have any information that could help solve this murder, call (865)-215-2243.

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