Authorities have no idea how many deer the Berry family and their associates illegally killed in the fields and forests of southern Missouri over the past decade, but the details of their poaching operation would make any animal lover’s stomach turn.
Over nearly nine years, David Berry and his two sons, David Berry Jr. and Kyle Berry, killed the deer, mostly at night, then cut off their heads and antlers — leaving the bodies to rot where they fell.
There was financial motivation in the carnage, but authorities said collecting the deer heads was mostly about ego.
“Taking just the heads is their version of obtaining a ‘trophy’ and leaving the carcass behind is merely an afterthought," Randy Doman, division chief of the Missouri Department of Conservation, told the Springfield News-Leader. "While there are some cases where poachers go after the antlers for profit, with this bunch it was more about the thrill of the kill itself.”
And so when the Berrys and more than a dozen other poachers were ultimately sentenced, Lawrence County Judge Robert George apparently hoped a little Disney magic would show one of them the error of his ways.
According to court records obtained by the News-Leader, David Berry Jr. “is to view the Walt Disney movie ‘Bambi,’ with the first viewing being on or before December 23, 2018, and at least one such viewing each month thereafter, during Defendant’s incarceration in the Lawrence County Jail.”
Berry Jr. will be in jail for a year.
In a scene that has traumatized generations of children, Bambi’s mother directs him to a patch of new spring grass before a sound startles her.
“Bambi, quick. The thicket,” she urges as the two try to sprint to safety amid the sounds of gunshots. “Faster! Faster, Bambi! Don’t look back! Keep running! Keep running!"
As David Berry Jr. will undoubtedly learn, those are the last words Bambi’s anthropomorphic mother utters.
Although there are restrictions, judges generally have leeway to impose conditions on a sentence, like anger management classes or drug treatment — and sometimes they get creative.
For example, in 2008, a Cleveland Housing Court judge ordered a landlord convicted of multiple violations to serve house arrest in one of his own dilapidated units. Two people who vandalized a nativity scene in an Ohio town were ordered to walk through the streets of Fairport Harbor with a donkey and a sign reading “Sorry for the jackass offense.”
It is unclear why Berry Jr. was singled out to watch the 76-year-old Disney movie ad nauseam. In total, the other co-conspirators faced a litany of charges and paid nearly $200,000 in bonds and fines and served 33 days in jail, according to the Department of Conservation.
All the Berrys had their hunting, fishing and trapping privileges revoked for life.
Berry Jr.'s family members have also been accused of catching fish by hand, an often illegal process that can be dangerous to both fishermen and fish populations.