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Last modified at 12:30 a.m. on Friday, February 11, 2000

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 Thomas A. Berberich, left, cried with his sister, Connie Knight, shortly after his not guilty verdict was read in the Osage County Courthouse on Thursday. Berberich was on trial for the 1979 slaying of John F. "Jack" Hanrahan.

David Eulitt/The Capital-Journal

Berberich not guilty
Lead juror cites lack of evidence

The Capital-Journal

LYNDON -- After more than 20 hours of deliberations over three days, an Osage County jury acquitted Thomas A. Berberich, 46, late Thursday afternoon in the slaying of John F. "Jack" Hanrahan, 12, who disappeared from Topeka streets in 1979.

Several women among the Hanrahan family gasped, some cried quietly, and the faces of Jack's parents, John and Carol Hanrahan, were blank when District Judge James Smith read the verdict at 4:15 p.m. acquitting Berberich of premeditated first-degree murder.

"We the jury find the defendant not guilty," Smith said, then polled jurors individually to verify the verdict. All agreed with the verdict.

Berberich sat calmly in his chair with his hands in his lap but soon stood to walk to his family, crying on the shoulder of one man, then on the shoulder of a sister. Meanwhile, sheriff's deputies hovered between the two families.

Defense attorney William Rork was talking to a reporter in the courtroom when Berberich threw his arms around Rork. "Thanks, man," Berberich said before leaving the courtroom. Berberich declined to make any remarks.

Members of the Hanrahan family declined to be interviewed.

At 4:50 p.m., Berberich was released from the Osage County Jail. From there, Berberich was driving to a Topeka hospital, where his father, Thomas C. Berberich, was admitted earlier this week with a stroke, Rork said.

Teri Graham, the presiding juror, said that in order to convict Berberich, jurors wanted evidence of a direct connection between him and the homicide victim, and that was never presented. Several witnesses had testified Berberich and Jack had attended the same wedding dance in early 1979.

If the jury had known about Berberich's conviction in a 1989 Shawnee County case for sexually assaulting a child, it "could have" made a difference, Graham said, but he declined to elaborate.

After the verdict, Graham learned about Berberich's 1989 conviction, which Smith had prohibited prosecutors from mentioning during the trial. Jurors weren't told that Berberich went to see Dr. R. Don Strong, a mental health counselor, in 1989 after he was convicted of the sexual assault. When Berberich testified on Monday, he mentioned he had fallen asleep several times during his "trial."

"We felt all along that we didn't have the whole reasons," Graham said.

Jurors had problems with the testimony of three prosecution witnesses, Graham said.

Jurors questioned the credibility of Strong, he said.

"There were a lot of inconsistencies. A lot of things didn't mesh," Graham said.

Strong testified that in January 1989, Berberich blurted out a confession to killing and sexually mutilating Jack.

Graham said the jury's reaction to the testimony of Lewis William Holden, who said Berberich confessed to killing the Hanrahan boy while they were inmates in the Osage County Jail, "wasn't positive."

Jurors looked at the testimony of Vickie Hanrahan Jacques but didn't think there was enough evidence to counter the negatives, Graham said.

Jacques testified that in 1989, Dorothy Strong Klatt, Strong's then-wife, told her Berberich had confessed to Dr. Strong that he killed Jack. Klatt, however, testified she doubted Berberich made the confession.

Graham said other possible suspects suggested by Rork weren't a factor in their deliberations. Graham declined to disclose what the vote tallies by jurors were when they were deadlocked on Wednesday. He said a read back of about two hours of testimony on Thursday by Strong and Klatt didn't help, but jurors wanted to make sure what Strong had testified to, and one juror wanted to rehear the Klatt testimony.

Jurors looked at all the evidence, examining it from different angles, and finally, there was a unanimous vote to acquit, Graham said.

"Each juror voted his own conscience," Graham said. "It was physically and emotionally draining."

Rork questioned the evidence.

"Besides innuendo and inference that he was a bad person, there is no proof," Rork said.

Law enforcement focused on Berberich's past and got fixated on Strong and a tooth found in the boy, Rork said.

"I feel sad for the Hanrahan family because they were given false hope by this prosecutor," Rork said, referring to Shawnee County District Attorney Joan Hamilton, who prosecuted the case for Osage County. Rork said Berberich, who doesn't plan to live in Topeka, doesn't hold any "grudges" or "revenge."

Hamilton said jurors wanted a link between the Hanrahan boy and Berberich, something prosecutors couldn't provide.

"It's frustrating and very sad for the (Hanrahan) family," she said. "I don't have any reason to believe it's anyone else."

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