Berryman sentenced to 45 years for child abuse

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Aug. 7—MOULTON — A Lawrence County circuit judge sentenced a Town Creek man who was convicted of three counts of child abuse involving two children, one of whom died from blunt force trauma, to 45 years in prison at a hearing Friday afternoon.

Some of the family members and loved ones of Evan Woodrow Berryman, 35, began weeping when Judge Mark Craig handed down the sentence and fines totaling more than $30,000.

After a 16-day trial in March, a jury acquitted Berryman of capital murder in the Aug. 4, 2014, death of 2 1/2 -year-old Ian Calhoun, the son of Berryman’s then-girlfriend Chelsea Fike. But Berryman was found guilty of two counts of aggravated child abuse involving Ian and one count of child abuse involving his sister.

Defense attorneys James Mason and Thomas Di Giulian said they were surprised at the harsh penalty, but Di Giulian said the court “was within its legal right.” District Attorney Errek Jett said Berryman could have received a maximum of 50 years for his convictions.

“We don’t think it’s an appropriate sentence. We think it’s too much,” Di Giulian said after meeting with the Berryman family members. “We’ll file a motion for a new trial. The pre-sentence investigation gave us some hope. (Berryman) got a four, which is low on a scale of no risk. Probation department even had no objection to him being granted probation. It was a surprise.”

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The defense attorneys added that Berryman had no disciplinary reports written up by the jail staff during the six years he has spent there since his arrest.

The defense has 30 days to file a motion for a new trial with the Circuit Court. If the motion is denied, the defense can appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals in Montgomery, both sides said.

Before handing down the sentence, Craig told the 50 or so people in the courtroom that he reviewed the 22 letters of support for Berryman the court had received. Also, he lauded Berryman for completing a college course to become a paralegal while he has been in the Lawrence County Jail since his arrest in 2016. Craig said Berryman will receive credit for the six years he’s been locked up.

Mason said the family members were “very disappointed and upset” with Craig’s sentencing.

Jett said the number of years in prison Berryman got was appropriate.

“If I asked you for a number of years, there is not a number that would be sufficient,” Jett said. “There is not a number. Whatever that number might be it doesn’t replace a life.”

He said the post-sentence hearing meeting with the Calhoun family and loved ones was emotional.

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“They’re relieved that this part of the case is over,” he said. “With the amount of time he was given and the fact the girl just turned 11, there will be zero chance that as a kid she will run up on this guy on the street or at Walmart. They found great comfort in that.”

Berryman was accused of beating Ian Calhoun and his older sister while they were under his care as Fike worked at night.

During the trial a key witness for the prosecution, Dr. Melissa Peters, of Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, said when Ian arrived via helicopter at the hospital on Aug. 2, 2014, he was unresponsive and appeared brain dead. She said his injuries were consistent with child abuse.

The cause of death was blunt force trauma of the head, torso and lower and upper extremities, according to an autopsy report completed by the Alabama Department of Forensics.

A defense witness, Dr. John Galaznick, a pediatrician from Northport, said it was impossible to tell how the bruises occurred on Ian’s body and he said the child had medical conditions that caused him to easily bruise. The defense argued that Ian had sustained a head injury when he fell out of bed and hit a wall.

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Ian’s sister testified via videotape that she had been abused, and prosecutors showed the jury images of the girl with a black eye and severely bruised left cheek.

Fike, 31, has been charged with reckless murder, felony murder and two counts of aggravated child abuse for her son’s death. She was arrested Dec. 13, 2016, and released on $190,000 bond, according to court records.

An Oct. 31 jury trial has been set in that case.

mike.wetzel@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2442. Twitter @DD_Wetzel.

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