After an all-night cocaine binge, a woman used a block to beat to death an 88-year-old homeless shelter volunteer who gave her Bible studies.
And on Monday, the Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously upheld the convictions and life sentence given to Ms. Tiffany Luchin Wise for the 2009 killing of the Dougherty County woman.
The following details on the crime were obtained from the court documents. But the motive for Ms. Mabel Berry's murder remained unclear.
Ms. Wise, then 33, was a recovering drug addict who went on an all-night cocaine binge before driving her sister’s SUV to Ms. Mabel Berry’s home in Albany the next morning on May 2.
Ms. Berry had been a long-time volunteer at the Albany Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter, where Ms. Wise had lived for a year. She still held Bible classes at the mission, which Ms. Wise attended.
The elderly woman allowed Ms. Wise into her home and the two women talked for a while before going out back to look at Ms. Berry’s flowers.
“While Berry was not watching, Wise slipped a rock into her purse before the two went back inside,” according to court records. “When Berry turned her back, Wise pulled out the rock and repeatedly struck the old woman’s head.”
Mr. Berry’s next-door neighbor, Mr. Roosevelt Chambers, was riding a stationary bike in his back yard when he heard loud noises coming from the woman’s house.
His granddaughter heard screaming and Ms. Berry’s dog barking. Alarmed, she and her grandmother, Mrs. Constance Chambers, ran to Ms. Berry’s home and banged on the front door.
“Wise was still beating Berry with the rock and a large glass bowl when she heard the knocking and cracked open the door,” prosecutors said.
She told the neighbors someone had picked up Ms. Berry to go to church. But Mrs. Chambers knew her neighbor always drove herself. Her husband called the police.
While they waited, she and her granddaughter sat on their porch and kept an eye on Ms. Berry’s house. They saw only one person leave – Ms. Wise.
While Ms. Wise was answering the front door, Ms. Berry had managed to get up and stumble out the back door. But Ms. Wise found her out back crawling on the ground.
“As Berry pleaded for help, prosecutors contended, Wise blindfolded the elderly woman, picked up a concrete block and again struck Berry in the head, this time killing her,” according to the records. “After covering her with a white sheet, Wise put on Berry’s housecoat and left.”
Officers found Ms. Berry’s body, blindfolded and covered with a sheet in the backyard. They also found a concrete block spotted with blood and hair nearby.
In June 2010, the jury convicted Ms. Wise and under a newly passed Georgia statute, the court sentenced Ms. Wise to life without parole. She then appealed to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court erred by allowing a police officer to present hearsay evidence.
“This is clearly not a case where a police officer tried to smuggle in hearsay from eyewitnesses under the guise of explaining investigative conduct,” the opinion says. “But even assuming that the trial court should have restricted the officer’s testimony, any error was harmless.”
The evidence presented at trial, the opinion states, “was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which she was convicted.”
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