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May 30, 2019

Warrenton man admits he killed his sister in pool

After they argued over prescription drugs, including oxycodone, Ashton D. Berry last year drowned his sister in a wading pool at the home they shared near Warrenton.
Berry Murder Case
• What: Sept. 1, 2018, murder in an inflatable wading pool at 6739 Riley Road, northeast of Warrenton.

• Victim: Angie A. Walls, 53.

• Court: Fauquier County Circuit.

• Defendant: Ashton Dunlap Berry, 52.

• Charge: Mr. Berry on Thursday afternoon pleaded guilty in Fauquier County Circuit Court to a reduced charge of second-degree murder in the drowning death of his sister. He faces 5 to 40 years in prison. He originally had been charged with first-degree murder, which carries a penalty of 20 years to life behind bars.

• Prosecutors: Senior Commonwealth’s Attorneys Abigail Owens and Charles Peters.

• Defense lawyers: Deputy Public Defender Kevin Gerrity and Public Defender Lorie O’Donnell.

• Judge: Jeffrey W. Parker.

• Next: Mr. Berry will be sentenced Aug. 15.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
A Warrenton area man Thursday afternoon pleaded guilty in Fauquier County Circuit Court to second-degree murder in the drowning death of his sister last September.

Ashton Dunlap Berry, 52, drowned Angie A. Walls, 53, by sitting on her head in their home’s inflatable wading pool at 6739 Riley Road, northeast of town.

Mr. Berry, also known as “Leon,” originally faced a first-degree murder charge, with a potential life sentence.

Pleading guilty to second-degree murder, he faces five to 40 years behind bars. Mr. Berry will be sentenced Aug. 15.

His lawyers — Deputy Public Defender Kevin J. Gerrity and Public Defender Lorie O’Donnell — declined to discuss their client’s guilty plea after Thursday’s 18-minute hearing.

An argument between Mr. Berry and Ms. Walls about her prescription medication preceded her Sept. 1 drowning, according court documents.

Sheriff’s investigators removed from the home three kinds of pills, including oxycodone, a highly addictive painkiller.

Mr. Berry told a detective that the dispute began at a table on the home’s deck.

Ms. Walls grabbed his Diet Coke and tossed it off the deck, Mr. Berry said. 

Enraged, he stuck her head in the 2-foot-deep, rectangular wading pool “and held it under the water until she was unresponsive,” Sgt. Jason Romero wrote.

Mr. Berry then went inside, where he remained “for a while,” the document states.

Returning to the deck, he noticed his sister “was moving.” 

Sgt. Romero added: “He stated he put her head back in the children’s pool on the deck and held it under water by sitting on her head until she was unresponsive again.”

In December, Mr. Gerrity argued that the detective violated Mr. Berry’s right to have a lawyer present during questioning.

Fauquier Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Judge Melissa N. Cupp, who conducted preliminary hearings on the case, agreed.

Judge Cupp’s ruling appears to apply to “clarifying questions” that Sgt. Romero posed related to the defendant’s admission.

Sgt. Romero advised Mr. Berry of his Miranda rights and then asked the defendant if he had any questions, according to court records.

“I’d just like to see a lawyer,” Mr. Berry said. “I really would. Not to be rude to ya’ll or nothing. So I don’t hang myself. But no, I drowned her. I’m not saying I didn’t. But you know. I know I did.

“I’m not gonna say I didn’t. But I did drown her.”

In a two-page ruling, Judge Cupp stated that the defendant clearly requested legal counsel “to assist him with the interview so that he would not incriminate himself.”

But, Sgt. Romeo continued to asked “clarifying questions,” the judge wrote.

Because Mr. Berry’s initial statement “was an unequivocal assertion of his request for counsel, no clarifying questions may be asked,” Judge Cupp added.

“Therefore, the defendant’s motion to suppress all statements by the defendant after Sgt. Romero asked additional, clarifying questions are suppressed,” the judge concluded. “The motion to suppress the statement made by Mr. Berry at the conclusion of his request for counsel is denied.”

That ruling applied only to the preliminary hearing proceedings. Finding probable cause for the murder charge, Judge Cupp forwarded the case to Fauquier County Circuit Court.

Her Miranda rights ruling had no binding effect on circuit court. 

The circuit court had scheduled Thursday’s hearing for argument on the admissibility of Mr. Berry’s confession.

Instead, Mr. Berry pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He remains incarcerated in the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center near Winchester.

Contact Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or 540-270-0300. 
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