American Knights Leader Sentenced to Seven Years

Klan Crimes

Jeff Berry, the swaggering leader of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has had many legal tangles in his career, once even ripping off an elderly woman neighbor. Yet Berry has always managed to avoid prison.

No more. Berry was sentenced on Dec. 3 to seven years in an Indiana penitentiary after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal confinement with a deadly weapon. Three other charges were dropped in a plea agreement.

The case stemmed from November 1999, when two television journalists came to interview Berry in his northeast Indiana home. After the interview, Berry became angry when he learned that a critic of his Klan group would also be included in their story, and he demanded the journalists' videotapes.

When the reporters refused, Berry and his supporters locked the doors and blocked the reporters' vehicle from leaving. After an associate of Berry's entered with a shotgun and pumped it several times, the reporters surrendered the tapes and were allowed to leave.

Prosecutors brought charges after the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a civil lawsuit on the journalists' behalf and won a $120,000 judgment against Berry in early 2001. Another SPLC lawsuit, accusing Berry of fraudulently transferring property to avoid paying the civil judgment, is pending.