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Serial rapist sentenced to two life terms without possibility of release

Ronald Berton Jr. was found guilty of breaking into two women’s homes in 2007 and 2010 and sexually assaulting them

A view of the D.C. Superior Court building in downtown Washington. (Keith L. Alexander/Keith L. Alexander/The Washington Post)
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A District man was sentenced Friday to two life sentences without the possibility of release after being convicted of breaking into the homes of two women and sexually assaulting them in 2007 and 2010.

D.C. Superior Court judges rarely sentence defendants to life terms, even for first-degree, premeditated murder convictions. But federal prosecutors successfully argued that Ronald P. Berton Jr., 48, was unlikely to benefit from prison rehabilitation programs and was at high risk of reoffending.

Berton also has been convicted of breaking into homes and assaulting two other women in Montgomery County, Md., and Arlington, Va., Assistant U.S. attorney Amy Zubrensky said.

“It’s a rare offender who is convicted of this many home invasion sexual assaults,” Zubrensky told a judge.

Berton’s attorney, Thomas R. Healy, who argued during trials in both D.C. cases that his client was innocent, repeated that contention Friday and said he planned to appeal the convictions.

“Mr. Berton did not do this,” Healy said. “He wants to come back into the community.”

The sentences were handed out by two D.C. Superior Court judges in back-to-back hearings.

Prosecutors said DNA linked Berton to both attacks.

In the first case, prosecutors said Berton entered a woman’s ground-level apartment in Adams Morgan on Oct. 6, 2007, while she was asleep and assaulted her. The woman reported the crime to police, and evidence was collected, prosecutors said. The case, however, sat for nearly eight years before the victim contacted authorities to find out the status of the investigation. It was then, the woman wrote in a letter to the judge Friday, she found out her rape kit had not yet been tested for possible matches.

Berton was tried three times before a jury convicted him of sexual assault in 2020. Two previous juries were unable to reach a unanimous verdict after Berton’s attorneys argued the sex was consensual.

“I went through three trials and each time I testified, I felt I was on trial,” the 42-year-old woman wrote in her letter. “They focused on what I had done earlier that evening, which had nothing to do with the attack. They asked me how many drinks I had before. What I was drinking and how many slices of pizza I had. They even subpoenaed my therapist records.”

Judge Juliet McKenna said the fact that the assault, like the others, had occurred in the victim’s home was “particularly disturbing.”

“He raped her in her own bed. He took her phone and her wallet and identification so that he had the victim’s personal information,” McKenna said. “Mr. Berton’s assault is traumatizing and continues to impact them more than a decade later.”

The victim in the second case, a 42-year-old journalist who said she has covered conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, spoke of waking up on June 12, 2010, to find Berton standing in her bedroom. He told her, “This is only going to take a minute” and “Are you going to be good?” she recalled as she stood before a judge reading a letter she had prepared.

The woman fought back during the assault, prosecutors said, and DNA was later collected from under her fingernails.

Last month, following a trial, a jury found Berton guilty of first-degree burglary, kidnapping (forcibly preventing the victim from fleeing her home) and first-degree sexual abuse.

“This crime was an invasion of personal safety and bodily integrity on every level,” Zubrensky said. “It was an invasion of her home, her most secure space. He assaulted her while she was sleeping. He either picked her locks or found unlocked doors and raped her.”

Before Judge Marisa Demeo sentenced Berton to the second life sentence — which will run consecutively to the first sentence — Demeo asked if he had anything to say.

“Nah,” Berton responded.