Klan Leader Pleads Guilty

Associated Press/October 2, 2001

Auburn, Ind. -- A Ku Klux Klan leader pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count in connection with charges he held a television news crew hostage after he became angry during an interview.

Jeff Berry agreed to the deal with prosecutors Monday, the day before his trial was to begin. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal confinement with a deadly weapon, DeKalb County Prosecutor Monte Brown said. Three other charges were dropped.

The charges were filed against Berry, imperial wizard of the DeKalb County-based American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, after the confrontation with reporter George Sells IV and camerawoman Heidi Thiel of WHAS-TV in Louisville, Ky.

The two said they interviewed Berry at his home in Newville in 1999, but he became angry when he learned the story also would include comment from a Klan critic.

He decided he no longer wanted to be part of the story and refused to let them leave until they surrendered the video of the interview with him, they said. Another man, who carried a gun, locked the door.

Berry took two tapes from Thiel's camera before allowing the two to leave, they said.

Sentencing was set for Dec. 3. If the judge accepts the plea, Berry, 48, faces up to 10 years in prison under sentencing guidelines, Brown said.

Berry's attorney, Robert Love, did not immmediately return a call seeking comment.

WHAS-TV news director Maria Reitan said the station was pleased with the guilty plea. Sells and Thiel won a $120,000 civil judgment against Berry this year in federal court. An appeal of that judgment is pending.

Brown said no one else was ever charged in the case. Police were not able to identify the man with the shotgun. A woman who allegedly had a minor role in the confrontation -- locking up some television equipment in a closet -- was not charged.

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