The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

October 1, 2012

Woman granted probation in Messenger Towers shooting

A Joplin woman was assessed a suspended sentence and probation Monday on a conviction for shooting her boyfriend with a black-powder rifle during a domestic dispute.

Dustin A. Berry, 42, pleaded guilty in Jasper County Circuit Court to a reduced charge of second-degree assault in a plea deal with the prosecutor’s office.

Berry initially was charged with first-degree domestic assault and armed criminal action in the Jan. 21 shooting of Michael L. Saunders, 52, inside an apartment on the 12th floor of Messenger Towers in downtown Joplin. Saunders was shot in the face with a .50-caliber, black-powder rifle. He survived the wound.

The defendant’s plea deal with the prosecutor’s office dismissed the count of armed criminal action and allowed the possibility of probation because of her poor health. She reportedly is suffering from cancer and is in an advanced stage of the disease.

Circuit Judge David Dally accepted the plea agreement and assessed Berry seven years in prison for the conviction, with execution of the sentence suspended and the defendant placed on supervised probation for five years. She also was ordered to complete 75 hours of community service.

Police said Berry called 911 to report the shooting in the high-rise apartment building. Officers and emergency medical technicians found Saunders lying in the hallway outside Berry’s apartment. The rifle was on a couch inside her apartment.

Berry was treated at a hospital the same night for bruises, abrasions and a cut lip that she told officers Saunders inflicted during their argument.

She told police that he came to her place with another woman with whom he had been drinking. They began to argue, and he punched, kicked and choked Berry, causing her to flee her place, she told police. When she ran into a former boyfriend in the lobby of Messenger Towers, she told him about Saunders’ treatment of her.

The former boyfriend told police that he tried to persuade her to call 911 at that point, but she asked him to let her borrow a gun instead to try to persuade Saunders to leave. A probable-cause affidavit states that Berry and the ex-boyfriend went to his apartment in the same building, and he loaded a rifle and showed her how to use it.

But they then went to her apartment without the weapon to try to persuade Saunders to leave. A confrontation took place between the two men during which the ex-boyfriend reportedly threatened to call police and Saunders eventually agreed to leave.

In the meantime, Berry had gone to the ex-boyfriend’s apartment to retrieve the gun, and she returned to her apartment and shot Saunders in the face, according to the affidavit. The ex-boyfriend was not charged with any offense.

Medical release

BECAUSE OF HER MEDICAL CONDITION, Dustin Berry has been free on her own recognizance since a few days after the shooting of her boyfriend at Messenger Towers. She is suffering from cancer.

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