The state of Alaska last week closed the case of a fugitive sex offender from a prominent California political family who was found dead this summer in Argentina after an international manhunt.
Larry W. Berryhill, an accomplished former pole vault coach for Brigham Young University in Utah, was found dead on Aug. 24 in Tunuyan, Argentina, where he had fled to avoid going to prison in Alaska. He was convicted in Juneau Superior Court on two counts of sexual abuse of a minor on Feb. 27 for abusing two underage male employees at his fishing lodge in Gustavus. Berryhill was 64 years old at the time of his death.
Berryhill "never served a day in jail for his offenses and never was sentenced for his crimes in a way that provided closure for his victims in Alaska," according to court papers filed Oct. 27 by Juneau District Attorney Doug Gardner.
Berryhill was expected to serve between five and 15 years in prison on each count. The sentencing judge was to decide if the sentences would run consecutively or concurrently.
Authorities learned that prior to his death, Berryhill had been vacationing in New Zealand and throughout Europe after skipping his sentencing hearing on May 4, according to court documents. The Alaska State Troopers Fugitive Task Force learned that Berryhill had made his way to Argentina.
"He died in very short proximity to the time the troopers identified he was hiding in Argentina and where exactly he was hiding," Gardner said. "I don't know why he died. I just know that the body that the Stanislaus County (California) coroners graciously went and examined for us was him and I'm satisfied with the print cards and the analysis done that he is deceased."
A submitted obituary to newspapers in California where he was born said Berryhill died "unexpectedly of a heart attack." The obituary makes no mention of his sex abuse convictions and said, "He was in Argentina enjoying himself with friends when he passed away."
During the international search for Berryhill, it came to light that he allegedly sexually abused another male victim in Provo, Utah, according to court documents. The fugitive task force also learned that Berryhill was investigated by the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office and the Ceres Police Department for allegedly sexually abusing multiple victims in California in the 1980s.
Berryhill was indicted by a grand jury in 2007 on three counts of sexual abuse of a minor after an underage boy working at the Great Chinook Lodge reported to state troopers that he had been molested in June 2006. A second employee told investigators that Berryhill sexually abused him at the lodge in 2001.
Both victims testified during the trial that they were athletes that took summer jobs at the fishing lodge in Gustavus for adventure and athletic instruction, according to court documents. Both victims testified that Berryhill had sexually abused them during athletic massages at the lodge.
Berryhill and both victims were all active members of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints, according to court records.
Berryhill was from a prominent Republican political family in California. His brother, Mike Berryhill, announced he is running for U.S. Congress in 2010 and two of his cousins are presently serving in the California State Assembly.
It is not very common for a convicted felon to flee before being sentenced, but it does happen, Gardner said.
"It doesn't happen often, but we did have one situation (earlier this year) where a person ran to Mexico and the state troopers were able to get that person back," he said.
The Alaska Legislature "dramatically increased" sentencing laws for sex crimes several years ago, Gardner said.
"I think that as the penalties for the sex crimes have increased, I have to think the prospects of someone running would increase," he said. "That may be what happened in this case."
Presently under Alaska law, people who are convicted of an unclassified or Class A felony sex crime are not allowed to be released on bail.
"Because Mr. Berryhill was convicted of a B felony, he was entitled to bail," Gardner said. "In sex offense cases, with the new sentencing laws, I think that that's riskier now."
Contact reporter Eric Morrisonat 523-2269 or email@example.com.