A picture is worth 1,000 words, a prosecuting attorney told a jury Tuesday about the deplorable conditions of a Washington Township home, where a woman was raising her four children amid dozens of dogs and other animals.
Assistant District Attorney Deanna Emerich described the conditions of Tesha Samaj Berry’s mobile home as being full of urine and feces, and submitted nearly 100 photographs for juror to review as part of the evidence in the case against Berry, whom state police arrested in 2021 after visiting her property.
A jury found Berry guilty of three misdemeanor counts of child endangerment and one felony count of child endangerment because the child was 6 years old or younger, four misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty for the reportedly illegal cropping of her dogs’ ears and two misdemeanor counts of neglect of an animal.
Additionally, Lawrence County Common Pleas Court Judge John W. Hodge, who presided over Berry’s trial, found Berry guilty of 34 summary offenses that included improper animal ear cropping and neglect of animals.
The jury acquitted Berry of seven total charges of neglect of animals, neglect regarding gerbils and snakes and neglect for failure to obtain required veterinary care.
A jury was chosen March 13 for the trial that lasted seven days and involved multiple witnesses for the prosecution. Berry also took the stand in her own defense.
Following an hour-long closing statement Tuesday morning by defense attorney Justin Quinn of Beaver County and a half-hour closing by Emerich, the jury retired around 12:30 p.m. and returned with its verdict after about 2 ½ hours of deliberation.
“This is the first animal cruelty conviction in Lawrence County that I’m aware of that went to a verdict,” District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa commented afterward.
Emerich offered her strongest closing arguments against Berry’s lack of protection of her children.
“A parent must protect a child from physical and psychological harm,” Emerich said. “Common sense tells us, and you don’t have to be an expert to make a determination.
“It is a known fact that if you don’t stay clean, you can get sick,” she said. “It’s the very reason why we have Children and Youth Services.
“If a child is exposed to a filthy environment, it becomes a safety issue,” Emerich said. “To have a house filled with feces and urine not only is harmful, it’s illegal. That’s why we charged (Berry) with four counts of endangering the welfare of a child.”
The prosecution has to prove that the parent violated that duty and did so knowingly, she continued. “Not purposely, but knowingly. She violated that duty as a parent.”
She emphasized to the jury Berry’s business of raising and selling pit bulls was more important to her than taking care of her own children and making sure they were safe.
State police filed charges in March 2021 against Berry for reportedly keeping a menagerie of pit bulls, mice, gerbils and snakes with four children in her mobile home in deplorable conditions.
The police at the time confiscated 30 pit bulls, two kittens, two ball python snakes, two gerbils and six feeder mice, according to a criminal complaint filed with the charges.
Three other dead ball python snakes also were found in individual plastic bins inside her house.
Berry was accused of keeping the animals and her children in unpleasant, unsanitary conditions and not providing the animals with proper food, water and protection.
The conditions were observed inside and outside of her home, according to the criminal complaint, and the pit bulls’ ears were cropped so short their eardrums were exposed and showed infection, according to court papers and testimony at the trial.
Lawrence County Children and Youth Services at the time of Berry’s arrest removed the children, ranging from 5 to 11, from the home and placed them with another family member.
The police received information about the conditions of the animals and the residence from a sworn humane police officer, who took the witness stand Monday morning.
The officer, Wendi Wiegand, told the jury how she visited the site and found a number of dogs outside in unsanitary conditions with no protection from the weather, and their water bowls were either empty or were frozen. When she went inside the house, the strong odor of feces and urine was overwhelming and she testified it was one of the worst homes she’s ever entered.
Hodge is to sentence Berry on her guilty counts at 1:30 p.m. April 27.
She is facing 92 additional charges in another case filed against her in November, for offenses that include additional counts of endangering the welfare of children, animal neglect, not having her animals vaccinated against rabies and not paying the fees for dog licenses.
That case is awaiting trial or plea in the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas, and she is innocent until proven guilty or adjudicated by a court.
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