November 29, 2021

Child-sex cases to be handed over to feds

Charges against two couples in Cortland City Court will be dismissed to avoid the potential for double jeopardy.

Both cases involving Christopher M. Perry, 35, of 89 Bartlett Ave., and Sarah R. Gates, 38, of 3 Kingsley Ave.; and Lawrence C. Berry, 25 and Brittany E. Berry, 24, of Cortland have already been charged by the federal authorities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will take over the case.

Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti said Tuesday the U.S. Attorney’s Office has already filed actions, which are pending.

By dropping the charges in Cortland, Perfetti said it eliminates the possibility of double jeopardy — a procedure that prevents the accused from being tried again on the same charges and on the same facts, following a valid acquittal or conviction.

Perfetti also said that having the cases handled federally, the penalty upon conviction would be a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years. “The penalties for these individuals are much more certain and much more severe under the federal system,” he said.

Perry and Gates were charged with sexual exploitation of a child in April by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Both Lawrence and Brittany Berry were charged with conspiring to sexually exploit a child that same month.

Given the nature of the cases, Perfetti said he wanted to send a clear message that these types of crimes are taken seriously.

The federal criminal complaint filed in the Northern District of New York stated that in 2017, Perry and Gates engaged in “sexually explicit conduct” with a three-year-old girl “for the purpose of producing visual depictions of the conduct,” according to a news release.

Lawrence and Brittany Berry are accused of conspiring in August and September 2018 to sexually exploit a child under the age of 5 who was born in 2015 for the purpose of producing visual depictions of that abuse, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The two were originally arrested in early September 2018 by Cortland police on numerous child abuse and sex abuse charges.

The maximum sentence on the predatory sexual assault against a child charges that Perry, Gates and Brittany Berry faced was a maximum of five years to 25 years. Lawrence Berry faced a maximum sentence of 25 years for second-degree conspiracy.

When first arrested, all four faced charges locally:

• Perry was charged in Cortland City Court with 10 felonies: predatory sexual assault against a child, first-degree criminal sexual act, first-degree rape, first-degree sexual abuse, use of a child in a sexual performance, possessing a sexual performance by a child, promoting a sexual performance by a child, possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child, promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child and another first-degree sex felony.

He was also charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, and unlawful possession of marijuana, a violation.

• Gates was charged with six felonies: predatory sexual assault against a child, first-degree criminal sexual act, first-degree sexual abuse, use of a child in a sexual performance, promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child and a third-degree sex felony. She was also charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.

• Lawrence Berry was charged with with second-degree conspiracy, use of a child in a sexual performance, promoting an obscene sexual performance, promoting a sexual performance by a child, possessing a sexual performance by a child and possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child, felonies, and endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.

• Brittany Berry was charged with first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree criminal sex act, promoting a sexual performance by a child, possessing a sexual performance by a child, predatory sexual assault against a child, second-degree conspiracy and another first-degree sex crime, all felonies; as well as endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.