Johnia Berry's mother, brother endorse Randy Tyree for Knox Co. Sheriff

UPDATED 8/5/08 6:52 p.m.: KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Relatives of murder victim Johnia Berry are publicly endorsing Randy Ttyree in his race against Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones.

It's no secret the Berry family became very upset with the way the sheriff's department handled the investigation into Johnia’s murder.

No one is criticizing the investigators who made an arrest after three years, but Berry's family is very critical of the last two men who've worn the sheriff's badge.

For three long years, Johnia Berry's family often stood beside Sheriff Jones and Tim Hutchison before him, as they searched for Johnia's killer. But now, Berry's mother and brother are publicly endorsing the man who wants to take Sheriff Jones' job. Why? Because they say the sheriff's department refused their requests to bring in outside agencies to help solve the crime.

Johnia’s mother Joan Berry says, "Time after time we were refused. In my heart, there will never be a reason is good enough for that."

Jonia Berry was stabbed two dozen times during a burglary of her West Knox County Apartment in December 2004, when Tim Hutchison was sheriff. A court ruling on term limits forced him out of office.

Berry says, "I thought after Sheriff Jones took over, that possibly there would be a change. But he denied me the same things that the former Sheriff did, so I'd just hate for someone to have to go through another Johnia Berry Case the way that we have."

Sheriff Jones would not agree to an interview. He released the following statement:

"Two detectives were assigned full-time to the Johnia Berry case. They had no other duties for three years except to solve this case. I told Joan Berry it would be solved and it was. As I sympathize with the Berry family over the loss of their daughter, this is just another desperate attempt by Tyree to gain free media time. We are proud of our rate of solving homicides, which is over 90 percent compared to the national average of about 54 percent. On August 8, Tyree will realize that he ran against Jimmy Jones and not Tim Hutchison.”

Johnia’s brother Kelly Burke says, "I get so angry to hear that kind of a statement come from Sheriff Jones."

Berry's family admits they don't know how Tyree would perform as Sheriff, but he says his approach would have been very different.

Tyree says, "You don't ever cut off any source of outside support for anything especially in the criminal justice system."

In declining an interview Tuesday, Jones told us through a spokesperson that he "refuses to participate in the exploitation of the murder of a young woman for political gain."

He did say that he's proud of his rate of solving nine of 10 homicides, while the national average is slightly better than one out of every two homicides.

It's important to note that while Johnia's brother, Kelly Burke, is a registered Knox County voter, Joan Berry lives out of state.

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Knox County murder victim Johnia Berry's mother and brother endorsed former Knoxville Mayor Randy Tyree for Knox County Sheriff.

Joan Berry and Kelly Burke say they feel that, under former Sheriff Tim Hutchison, there was a lack of professionalism and leadership, along with an unwillingness to seek outside help to bring her daughter's killer to justice.

The Berry family has said that Hutchison refused to seek help from agencies outside of Knox County throughout the investigation, but the Knox County Sheriff's Office has long said that they have dedicated more time, manpower, and other resources to this case than any other in Knox County history.

Berry and Burke say they were hopeful that things would change when Hutchison was replaced by Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones after the Knox County term-limits decision, but they say it was more of the same.

Berry says she's not sure what, if anything, Tyree would do differently in her daughter's murder case, but she says he deserves a chance.

Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones released the following statement concerning the Berry family endorsement of Randy Tyree for Sheriff:

"Two detectives were assigned full-time to the Johnia Berry case. They had no other duties for three years except to solve this case. I told Joan Berry it would be solved and it was. As I sympathize with the Berry family over the loss of their daughter, this is just another desperate attempt by Tyree to gain free media time. We are proud of our rate of solving homicides, which is over 90 percent compared to the national average of about 54 percent. On August 8, Tyree will realize that he ran against Jimmy Jones and not Tim Hutchison.”

The only suspect ever arrested and charged with Johnia Berry's 2004 murder was Taylor Lee Olson, but hanged himself in his jail cell. Rumors have swirled around the possibility of a second suspect, possibly named in a suicide note left by Olson.


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