Mother of a murder victim wants victim photos shown to jury

Murder victim's loved one speaks out about a bill allowing jurors to see photo of victim before the crime

Posted:
It's been nine years since Joan Berry's daughter Johnia was murdered, stabbed multiple times in her West Knox County apartment. It's been nine years since Joan Berry's daughter Johnia was murdered, stabbed multiple times in her West Knox County apartment.
According to sponsor Rep. Ryan Haynes, House Bill 1524 would allow prosecutors to show a photo of the victim before the crime occurred. According to sponsor Rep. Ryan Haynes, House Bill 1524 would allow prosecutors to show a photo of the victim before the crime occurred.
"I totally do not agree that it sways the jury to feel sorry for them," said Joan Berry. "I totally do not agree that it sways the jury to feel sorry for them," said Joan Berry.

By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The mother of a young murder victim wants to make sure Tennessee juries get to see the faces of the people like her daughter when their cases go to trial.

Jurors can see the defendants in the courtroom, but people killed or left hospitalized by a crime may only be represented by words. Current rules leave it up to the judge to decide if prosecutors can show pictures of the victim.

According to sponsor Rep. Ryan Haynes, House Bill 1524 would allow prosecutors to show a photo of the victim before the crime occurred. The photo would then be entered in as evidence for the jurors to view during deliberations. A House subcommittee is voting on the bill Wednesday. Several families of local murder victims are going to be in Nashville for the vote.

"This was when she was in law school in Michigan," said Joan Berry.

It's been nine years since Joan Berry's daughter Johnia was murdered, stabbed multiple times in her West Knox County apartment.

"She worked so hard to get what she wanted and she didn't even know him," said Berry.

Even though years have passed, she still thinks about her daughter every day.

"Michael and I walked across the stage to get her degree. That was, oh it's sad. It's so sad," said Berry.

Joan Berry continues to fight for the rights of victims.

"This was the DNA legislation, signed in 2007," said Berry.

Berry is now working to build support for the new bill which would allow prosecutors to introduce a photo of the victim before the murder occurred as evidence.

"We would show a before picture of what happened to an individual and an after picture to help the district attorneys prove their case that the victim was murdered," said Rep. Haynes.

Opponents of the bill say allowing a victim's photo would create sympathy for the victim and prejudice the jury. Berry disagrees.

"I totally do not agree that it sways the jury to feel sorry for them," said Berry.

She says the defendant and surviving victims get to sit in court and show their face to jurors during trials. She believes murder victims should have the same rights.

"That's the face of the person who was murdered, absolutely that should be allowed. They (the jurors) have the right to see that and the victim has the right to have their face in the evidence," said Berry.

Wednesday at 3:00 PM CDT the House Civil Justice subcommittee will vote on the bill. A majority vote is needed for the bill to move to the full committee.

Rep. Haynes anticipates a tight vote but is hopeful the bill will pass. Berry hopes the community contacts the committee members to share support for the bill.

6 News legal analyst Greg Isaacs says this would be a dramatic change to the legal system. 6 News asked him why defense attorneys can show pictures of the defendant but pictures of the victim before the crime occurred might not be allowed.

"The reason is it's prejudicial. What the case is about is for the defendant to receive a fair trial. You can allow photos that show the crime. They can be very gruesome under State versus Banks. We in Tennessee allow autopsy photos. We allow graphic photos that show injuries inflicted during the course of a crime. This is different. These photos aren't relevant. They're simply to put in context who the victim was," said Isaacs.

Isaacs predicts a legal battle over the separation of the legislative and judicial branches of government if this bill passes.

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