Berry murder suspect kills himself, names another suspect

Berry murder suspect kills himself, names another suspect

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- The man charged in the 2004 stabbing death of Johnia Berry committed suicide in his jail cell early Monday morning and left behind a letter naming another suspect. 

Officers found the body of Taylor Olson, 22, at 12:56 a.m. He had torn a bed sheet, hung it from a clothes hook in the corner of his cell and hanged himself. 

In a letter Olson left in his cell, he extended sympathy to his family and the Berrys and named a suspect he says killed Johnia Berry and said his last wish is for that person to be held responsible for the crime.    

Sheriff's officials aren't releasing the name of the person Olson indicated.

Olson's attorney Greg Isaacs, wouldn't name the person in the letter. He says it's the job of the sheriff's office and Knox County DA to pursue the case.

Officials with the DA's office says if there's new evidence in the case, they'll look into it. But as far as they know, there isn't any.

Isaacs says he met with Olson last Sunday and he showed no signs of depression. "Why Taylor Olson would kill himself after we discussed his trial and he was in a good mood, I don't know."

One man who may be connected to the murder is Noah Cox. However, he's never been arrested or charged in the case.

Olson's attorney filed a motion in November 2007 to request all the sheriff's office information on Cox as he worked to suppress the DNA evidence against Olson.

The sheriff's office says Olson hadn't indicated previously he was suicidal. He was being held alone in a cell on a $1 million bond and was checked on hourly.

Officers found Olson unresponsive and did CPR until Rural/Metro arrived, declaring him dead. His body was taken to the UT Forensic Center. 

Joan Berry, the mother of Johnia Berry, tells 6 News Monday afternoon a sheriff's detective called to tell her family about Olson's death.

Berry also says Olson's suicide was cowardly and now many questions she has will never be answered. "It's just another way of him admitting his guilt. His DNA was there and based on DNA evidence, there was no it could ever not have been his."

"I had so many things I wanted to say to him and now, I will never get that chance to say anything to him," Berry adds.

Berry says if there really is another suspect in her daughter's murder, "...he (Olson) should have stayed around and tried to do everything in his power to try to help prove there was someone else."

Still, Berry wants investigators to chase every lead. With Olson dead, there may never be a trial, meaning she may never get closure in her daughter's death. 

"It will be a good thing for some of my family members that they don't have to go through a terrible trial. But you know, we may never get answers," Berry says. 

As Olson was being escorted by deputies shortly after his arrest in September 2007, he was asked by 6 News "Why did you do it (the murder)?" and he responded that he "didn't mean for it to happen. It was an accident."

Olson was scheduled to go to trial July 28 after a judge granted a motion to delay in February.

Before that, he was due to go on trial March 3.

One of the reasons Isaacs had cited in his motion to delay is that the DNA evidence in the case was incomplete and would require independent analysis. He had also written that there were other suspects.

Olson was arrested and charged in September 2007 in a seven count indictment that included felony murder, pre-meditated first degree murder, attempted first degree murder and aggravated burglary.

Johnia Berry, who was 21, was stabbed multiple times in her apartment in the Brendon Park complex in West Knox County on December 6, 2004.

Her roommate, Jason Aymami, was wounded but escaped, ran to a Weigel's a half mile away and called 911.

When police arrived at the crime scene they found Berry alive outside another apartment, but she died shortly afterward.

Sheriff's detectives interviewed more than 1,000 people in connection with the case and submitted over 400 DNA samples.

Berry was an ETSU graduate who had moved to Knoxville to start graduate school. She was also engaged to be married the next spring.

In Knoxville, Berry worked as a holiday staffer at a local jewelry store and at Peninsula Hospital.

Her roommate later moved to Colorado.

The sheriff's office repeatedly turned down requests by the Berry family to bring in a national TV show, such as America's Most Wanted, to help with the investigation. In a statement in December 2006, the sheriff's office said it continued to believe the suspect was in the local area.

Olson had a prior criminal record in two counties. The crimes include:

  • August 2007 - charged with aggravated burglary and theft
  • May 2005 - Sevierville - charged with credit card theft and forgery
  • 2004 - Knox County - charged with failure to give information and render aid, driving without a valid driver's license and harassment. 

Shortly after Olson's arrest, 6 News interviewed a man who said Olson broke into his car in 2004 and stole his credit card.

Bob Avento said he learned it was Olson after a tattoo parlor in Sevierville notified him Olson acted suspicious when he was asked for his driver's license.

Avento says Olson even called him several times offering money if he wouldn't go to police and eventually charged more than $2,000 to his card.

Before Monday, the last suicide on record at the jail in the City County Building where Olson was being held, was in 1991.

6 News Anchor/Reporter Whitney Holmes contributed to this report.

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