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Food City ups Berry reward


A murderer still roams at large, perhaps in Knox County, more than 20 months after commiting a heinous crime at a West Knoxville apartment complex.

Well aware of that, the victim’s parents, Mike and Joan Berry, have joined with Food City officials in an effort to solicit leads on the 20-month-old murder case from East Tennessee and surrounding states.

At a Wednesday, Aug. 16, news conference, Food City President and Chief Executive Officer Steven C. Smith, a friend of the Berrys, said his regional supermarket chain has added brightly colored decals to tailgates of 50 Food City distribution trucks, each displaying a photo of murder victim Johnia Berry and the composite sketch of a suspect.

The red decals urge anyone having information, relevant to the case, to assist law enforcement officers in arresting the man who, on Dec. 6, 2004, murdered Johnia Berry and stabbed her roommate.

The UT graduate student, 21 at the time of her death, would have turned 23 this month.

Speaking at Food City’s Kingston Pike store near Peters Road, Smith said parent corporation, K-VA-T Food Stores Inc., also has added $10,000 to the reward previously offered for information leading to the assailant’s arrest and conviction.

That brings the total reward offered to $70,000.

“Food City is locally owned and operated,” Smith said. “We live, work and educate our children in the communities where we operate, and we’ve very much aware of the situations and circumstances that affect our customers. We’re fortunate to be in a position to aid in Johnia’s case.”

Food City held a similar news conference Thursday, Aug. 17, at a Food City in Bristol, near where Berry graduated from East Tennessee State University.

The West Knox Food City at 8905 Kingston Pike is less than a four-minute drive from Brendon Park Apartments, on Grayland Drive east of Cedar Bluff Road, where an intruder entered Berry’s apartment and attacked her and roommate, Jason Aymami, who survived.

Suspect in the Berry slaying is described as a white, fair-haired male weighing about 180 pounds. Some think he may remain in the Tri-Cities area.

Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols said his office still is working with Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison to pursue leads, aided by forensics assistance from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Hutchison has told the Berrys he believes the suspect remains within Knox County. “Despite the best efforts” of law enforcement, Smith said, “the murderer remains at large.”

Smith said Food City trucks serve 98 retail food outlets including 63 Tennessee markets — 18 of those in the Knoxville area. The chain also has 21 supermarkets in Virginia and 12 in Kentucky.

“We hope this has significant impact.” Smith said, noting that Food City trucks have high visibility as they regularly ply Interstates 40, 75 and 81.

Smith said finding and arresting the suspect “would make our area a much safer [place] to live, work and raise kids.”

Mike Berry thanked Smith, his family and Food City for their efforts to find his daughter’s killer. He expressed hope that expanding the search effort into surrounding states would help “get the murderer off our streets.

“It is our prayer that someone will come forward with information leading to the arrest and conviction” of the murderer, Berry said.

Jeanne Dotts Brykalski, coordinator for the East Tennessee Victims Rights Task Force, said the community would join Mike and Joan Berry, at 3 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 27, at a memorial service held in their daughter’s honor in World’s Fair Park.

Task Force members are invited to bring photographs of their loved ones. Others concerned with the issue of victims’ rights are also welcome to attend a program that includes a candlelight service.

Brykalski, whose own parents were slain by intruders in Farragut, said the Berrys “hope by keeping Johnia’s name and face in the public eye, that someone somewhere might remember something [that will] give the Knox County Sheriff’s Office that one piece of information that could help arrest this monster and keep him off the streets.”

Brykalski asked those interested in seeing justice done to “come out Sunday and stand up “for Johnia and all victims of violent crime.

“If decent, law-abiding citizens choose to do nothing,” she said, “the murderers, rapists, drug dealers, child molesters and their criminal defense attorneys will continue to walk over us and our laws, again and again, with no remorse or concern for those they hurt.”

KCSO investigators have followed hundreds of leads in the 20 months since the murder, but to no avail.

Berry family members repeatedly have asked Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols and Sheriff Tim Hutchison to seek Tennessee Bureau of Investigation intervention, but Hutchison has declined, saying his department continues to follow leads and is convinced the murderer remains within the county.

Meanwhile, a Web site, dedicated to Johnia Berry’s memory, has drawn more than 34,000 visitors since late 2005. A scholarship fund has been established at ETSU as a memorial to Berry.

Nichols said TBI continues to provide forensic support for the local investigation. He commended the Berrys on their diligence in seeking their daughter’s slayer. And he urged anyone having information that might help solve the murder case to call 215-2243 or e-mail homicide@knoxsheriff.org. The Berry family also maintains a tip line, confidential@johniaberry.org.

Though the suspect so far has eluded capture, Hope was, after all, the victim’s middle name.

Nichols joined the Berrys in their hope that truck decals’ display would trigger fresh leads.

“We need a break in this case,” Nichols told reporters.

 

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