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Ron Berry, convicted sex offender, gets partial pardon

Gov. Steve Beshear has restored the right to vote and hold office to convicted child molester Ron Berry, the former head of the defunct Micro-City Government youth program.

The partial pardon, which was signed on Aug. 20 and filed Wednesday in Fayette Circuit Court, does not restore Berry's right to own a gun or serve on a jury.

Berry, 64, was convicted of 12 counts of sodomy with 12- to 16-year-old boys in 2002. He completed a three-year prison sentence at Northpoint Training Center in 2005.

A Lexington lawyer who was instrumental in Berry's downfall was flabbergasted by the news.

"I'm legitimately at a loss for words on this one," said Gayle Slaughter, who represents several people who say they were sexually abused by Berry. "I guess it is good to know which side of the fence the governor is on in this battle against this scourge on society."

Slaughter said she doesn't mind allowing Berry the right to vote. "But I think allowing him to seek public office is a bit much," she said.

In Kentucky, if felons want their civil rights restored, the governor must intervene.

A spokesman for Beshear said the governor, as a matter of policy, automatically approves the partial restoration of civil rights if applicants have served their sentence, paid restitution and have no outstanding warrants.

Having the right to vote automatically grants someone the right to run for office, spokesman Jay Blanton said.

Prosecutors can object to the partial pardon, and Beshear actually doubled the amount of time prosecutors have to review the cases, Blanton said. Prosecutors have objected in 56 instances, and in each case the governor refused to restore civil rights, Blanton said.

In Berry's case, prosecutors did not object. He was prosecuted by Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson's office.

Blanton said Berry's application was forwarded to Larson in June.

Larson says he didn't see it. If he had, he would have objected, he said.

"We object to people who kill people, and people who are sex offenders," Larson said. "And I just obviously didn't see it."

He said it is too late for him to object now.

Larson did not have an explanation for why it did not reach his desk.

In March, Beshear, a Democrat, streamlined the process to make it easier for felons to have their rights restored. The move was praised by the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and some Republicans, including Secretary of State Trey Grayson, Blanton said.

The previous governor, Ernie Fletcher, did not automatically restore rights, and required written essays.

Berry did not return a phone message seeking comment. Phone calls to a handful of his supporters were not returned.

Micro-City Government, which was founded by Berry in 1969, provided summer jobs and educational programs for disadvantaged youths, hosted dances and parties for the teens, and offered free lunches in impoverished neighborhoods. Berry led Micro-City until 1997, when allegations against him became public.

Micro-City was dissolved in 1998.

More than 160 people have sued the Urban County Government, claiming city officials ignored or concealed information that Berry was molesting underage boys and girls for decades.

The lawsuits alleged that officials allowed the abuse to occur because Berry, once a prominent and powerful black leader, could deliver the black vote for them.

Slaughter said the partial pardon confirms what Berry's critics have long said.

"Ron has friends in high places," Slaughter said. "I guess Steve's trying to get another vote."

Replied Blanton, "I think that is a ridiculous assertion."

"We apply the same standard for everyone," he said. "It is irresponsible to make such a statement."