Murder-For-Hire Suspect Pleaded Guilty

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By Linda Cicoira — A Parksley man pleaded no contest Monday in Accomack Circuit Court to capital murder by a prisoner in connection with a 2017 scheme to kill a police informant.

The victim, Nathaniel Johnson, 30, survived being shot three times. His then-girlfriend, Dezarae Smith, was shot in the foot. The two had been walking in the Linhaven area near Painter.

Keenan Jibrel Berry, 26, of Jermaine Lane, was one of the men asked to kill Johnson.

Berry’s plea of no contest means he contends his innocence but is aware of the overwhelming evidence against him. The court views it as a guilty plea.

Prospective jurors had already arrived at the courthouse for a trial set to last several days when a deal was struck between Commonwealth’s Attorney Spencer Morgan and Berry. 

According to the plea bargain, Berry would be sentenced to 20 years in prison for the charge, two other felony counts would not be prosecuted, and all but no more than seven years of the term would be suspended. 

At sentencing set for July 11, Berry’s lawyer would have an opportunity to argue to lower the term. Judge W. Revell Lewis III is presiding over the case. Berry was remanded to jail. A presentence report was ordered.

Morgan later said he was ready to present evidence that Berry talked three times about killing Johnson in conversations he had Evron Strand by phone. Strand, who was already convicted of the crimes, ordered the hit from Accomack Jail where he was awaiting trial for cocaine distribution. Morgan said he also would have proven that Berry told Strand that Johnson had been hanging around in the Linhaven area.

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