The True Story of Thomas Jabin Berry
Thomas Jabin Berry was a commercial fisherman and roofer from Englehard and Manteo, North Carolina. In 1993, at the time of Janet Siclari's murder, Berry was heavily addicted to crack cocaine and was working part-time on a fishing boat near Nag's Head.
By 1996, Berry was sitting in a jail cell for violating probation following an earlier offense. He had pleaded guilty to an earlier charge of statutory rape of a 12-year-old neighbor, and accepted an Alford plea to taking indecent liberties with a minor. He had been credited with time served, given a ten-year suspended sentence, and released on probation. In 1995, however, he had failed a mandatory drug test and his probation had been revoked, landing him in the Pasquotank Correctional Institute to complete his sentence.
At the time of his incarceration, authorities took a sample of Berry's blood and submitted it to the state's DNA data bank. The procedure was a routine one for inmates who found their way into the system by a sexual assault conviction. Samples were obtained from such criminal offenders at the time of their incarceration.
In April 1997, a DNA profile match was identified between the blood sample taken from Berry and the semen sample recovered from Janet Siclari's body. It was the first time in North Carolina history that a computer had made a positive DNA match on a "cold hit." After four and a half years, there was finally a suspect for the murder of Janet Siclari. Officers immediately arrested Berry and charged him with her rape and murder.
Officials searched a shed on Berry's mother's property, and also obtained a search warrant for his sister and brother-in-law's residence. Officers were looking for photographs, bloody clothing, shoes, knives, or any other evidence connecting Berry to the crime.
According to Doris Berry, her son sent her numerous letters avowing his innocence. In one such letter, Berry said police had placed him in solitary in order to force him to plead guilty to a crime he claimed he didn't commit.
"Every day a guard comes back here and asks me questions about the [Siclari] case and if I was involved," he wrote. "Then they say I should plead guilty even though I did not do anything. They are doing this to try and force me to plead guilty to something I didn't do."
Berry had no alibi for the evening that Janet was murdered, and denied having ever laid eyes on her. He said he hadn't even been to the Port-O-Call that evening.
He did, however, admit to being in Manteo to obtain an ID card the day before Janet's body was found, but couldn't remember if he had stayed at the beach and partied with friends or returned home.
During the interrogation, Berry stated that if he did rape and murder Janet, he had absolutely no memory of it. He could provide no explanation whatsoever as to how his sperm could have been found inside her body. He stated that he doubted that it were possible for him to have been strung out enough on crack to kill Janet and not have remembered it. "That's something you just don't forget," Berry remarked.
As a fisherman, Berry routinely carried knives, and usually kept one in a sheath attached to his belt. At trial, testimony from Berry's wife and a former girlfriend would substantiate that Berry carried a knife "ninety-eight percent of the time." The women also confirmed that Berry not only wore Spalding sneakers of the same size and type as the ones found on the beach near Janet Siclari's body, but that he also wore gray socks similar to those catalogued as evidence "pretty much all of the time."
Robert Kennedy, a forensic crime scene analyst, compared the Spalding sneakers found at the crime scene with two other pairs of shoes that Berry wore on a regular basis. Kennedy analyzed the impressions left by the heel, the ball of Berry's foot, and the upper portion of the shoe, and determined that all had a similar wear pattern.