Man wrongfully convicted goes from prisoner to paralegal

CHICAGO -- A Chicago man that was wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he did not commit used his time in prison to become a paralegal with the help of some well-trained lawyers.

Ken Berry, 48, was imprisoned for eight years.

In 1992, when he was 22, a woman accused him of kidnapping and rape. He was convicted, then sentenced to 35 years behind bars. He was a campus police officer at the University of Chicago at the time.

From the beginning, Berry maintained his innocence.

After eight years of fighting for his freedom, Berry was released.

His persistence and patience eventually paid off. When he got out, he became a paralegal.

The lawyers at Winston and Strawn eventually took the case pro bono. Berry sent them a paper in 1996 from his prison cell. He wrote it himself, making the cover and all.

“We looked at the records and I couldn’t tell just from the paper files that Ken was innocent at the time, but I could tell that this underlying trial had been a complete farce, a complete miscarriage of justice,” Kimball Anderson, partner at Winston and Strawn, said.

“He was bright, articulate, pleasant, not bitter and yet able to convey a great wrong had been done to him and someone truly worthy of getting an opportunity at a true defense,” Dave Koropp, former Winston and Strawn partner, said.

Berry had already done much of the research himself from behind bars, but this was not a simple case.

“I learned the law primarily inside a prison law library,” he said. “I was taught primarily by other prisoners.”

In December 1999, a federal judge ordered Berry’s case be retried on the state level.

On February 1, 2000, a jury acquitted Berry. He was a free man. In September of that same year, Berry was hired by Winston and Strawn to join the firm as a paralegal--a degree he received while incarcerated.

“I never thought that would actually happen,” Berry said, “But I’m glad that it did. This has changed my entire life.”

For the past 18 years and counting, Berry walks the halls of the silk stocking law firm with the very people who helped him unlock the doors to his freedom.

For more than a decade, Berry has been a champion of prison reform, civil rights, and pro bono cases on top of his job as a paralegal.

The next step is clemency. He wants it for his son Kendrick and his daughter Kiara. The perfect ending to a journey that’s been anything but perfect.

“This is kind of like the last piece of the puzzle for me so to speak. At some point, my children are still young, we’ll have a more detailed conversation about everything that happened to me,” Berry said.

That petition for clemency was just filed. Berry will go before a prisoner review board this summer And Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx will weigh in on the matter. That could be the difference for Berry this time--a new administration with a new outlook, he hopes.

He has been denied clemency three times already by previous governors. For his kids’ sake, he feels strongly about getting a pardon.