This is How Much a Woman is Worth in America

Trigger Warning

UPDATE: Tressa Gross’ cousin has shared his victim impact statement with us in the comments. I’ve verified his relation through this news article, which also provides some insight into Berger’s light sentence — assuming that his lawyer is telling the truth, which is always a gamble.


A St. Louis man named John Berger was sentenced in the death of Tressa Gross. You can see his photograph in the article; I was going to post it, and then decided that I couldn’t stand looking at his horrible fucking face for that long.

Berger admitted — is not accused of, admitted — to drugging Gross with GHB for the purposes of raping her. And the dose he gave her was a fatal one. He has apparently done this to countless other women, but this time I guess he made a mistake in his quest to derail a woman’s life with rape and ended it instead. Berger raped Gross. And then she died.

This man raped and killed a woman, a woman who he had only met that night. More than just being a horrible person, he’s a menace to society. This could have been anyone.

And for that, he will spend 5 years in jail. Maybe. He’s eligible for parole in four years.

For admitting to raping and killing a woman.

A man who admitted giving a woman a fatal dose of “date rape” drug during his alleged drive to have sex with 100 women was sentenced Friday to five years in prison during a hearing that exposed the stark emotions of his victim’s family.

John F. Berger, 38, of St. Louis, was sentenced in the death on April 7, 2002, of Tressa Gross, 26, whom he had met earlier that evening at a club on Washington Avenue. On Nov. 30, he pleaded guilty in a deal that included the five-year sentence.

Prosecutors said they had evidence Berger wanted to have sex with 100 women, was close to his goal and had given similar drugs to other women. Berger wasn’t charged until November 2006.

Gross, a graduate of Fox High School in Arnold who served in the Navy, was to have graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Berger, a graduate of Ladue Horton-Watkins High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, had owned several businesses and was a computer specialist.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry accepted the five-year term, of which he must serve at least four, and added five years of probation with mandatory drug and mental health treatment. She ordered him to pay Sandy Murray, Gross’ mother, the $5,622 cost of her daughter’s funeral. Murray was not in court.

Berger admitted he gave Gross cocaine and the “date rape” drug before having sex with her at a downtown loft, where she lost consciousness. He also said he disposed of the drugs before asking a friend to call an ambulance.

The St. Louis medical examiner determined in July 2002 that Gross died of an overdose of 1.4 butanediol, which converts to Gamma-hydroxybutyric, or GHB, in the body. GHB can cause drowsiness, loss of inhibition, amnesia and — at higher doses — breathing trouble and death.

Now, first things first: this woman has been insulted enough you St. Louis Dispatch-Post fucks, as well as any lawyers, judges, etc. who may have used similar language, so she doesn’t need your help. Berger did not “have sex” with this woman or any of the other women he drugged. He raped them. You do not and cannot “have sex” with a woman whom you have drugged. You do not and cannot “have sex” with a woman who is unconscious. You do not and cannot have some bullshit goal to “have sex” with 100 women when that plan involves a clear lack of consent and a clear act of violence.

This is rape, you fucking assholes, even though the word is only used in this article when accompanied by scare quotes. And maybe if anyone who matters realized this, Berger might have been punished a little more accordingly. Oh, wait, my mistake: if the word “rape” was used, it would just be her fault and he would get off with only the fine, as if what Gross’ mother fucking wants is the $5,000 for her daughter’s funeral. Paying someone back for what you “cost” them isn’t justice, though it may be a commendable addition to a reasonable sentence; it’s how we go about making things “even.” Oh sorry, I put a dent in your car, so I’ll pay for it. Oops, I broke your mp3 player, so I’ll buy you a new one. My bad, I just spilled my drink all over your shirt and ruined it — let me pick up the check. Sorry about accidentally killing your daughter when all I meant to do was drug and rape her, but don’t worry, I’ll totally pay for the funeral. Does someone want to tell me which of those scenarios is not like the others? For fuck’s sake what are we doing in this world?

The courts heard these reactions to Berger’s crimes:

Perry allowed statements by friends and relatives of Berger and Gross, and by Berger himself, before pronouncing sentence.

“I am so very, very sorry,” Berger said, calling the death “the tragedy that occurred in 2002.”

Friends and two rabbis spoke of his remorse and participation in Jewish services. Gross’ relatives said they weren’t moved.

“It’s pretty disgusting that you would need to drug someone to have them sleep with you,” a tearful Kelly Christanell, a cousin of Gross, testified. “But seeing how disgusting you are, perhaps that was your only option.”

Mary Hayden, an aunt, placed a picture of her niece facing Berger and said, “When you get out of prison, I hope the only way you get out of there is dead.”

Rosalie Berger, the defendant’s mother, said she was upset that news reports made her son appear to “be a monster.”

“He has expressed remorse about his involvement in this case. He has been seeking counseling,” she said.

You know, I have no doubt that there are many people out there who would like to refer to this as an “accident.” It wasn’t. Hitting someone with a car because you looked away from the road to fiddle with the radio? That’s what we call a horrible, tragic and unnecessary accident. Purposely running a person over with the intent of breaking their legs but, oops, they died instead? An accident that is not. At the very least, he should be going to jail for premeditated rape and manslaughter. But hey, maybe that’s what the plea deal was for after all. Maybe in modern day America, when forced to actually put a number to it, this what a woman is worth.

I’m also very, very angry at those who were willing to speak out on his behalf. These are probably more people who regard what Berger did as simply an unethical way to get “sex,” and an accident. As for Berger’s mother, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your son is a monster. I have lots of men that I love in my life, too. But if my husband, father or brothers ever raped and(/or) killed a woman, I would suddenly no longer have a husband, father or brother. Yes, it is that simple. Somethings are inexcusable. Drugging and raping countless women and then “accidentally” killing one of them is on that list. If you can’t bring yourself to shun him entirely, I understand why. But there’s absolutely no excuse for defending him.

And though I’m very wary of criticizing the family member of a victim, and I absolutely do understand what she was going for and don’t think she did anything wrong, the remarks of Gross’ cousin really do bother me, and I think they need to be pointed out. They repeat the common cultural narrative that rape is some kind of unfortunate alternative to consensual sex. As though it’s about sex. Berger didn’t rape women because he was oh-so-horny (and if he did it wouldn’t be even remotely an excuse). Berger raped women because he got off on the power, got off on hurting women, and apparently got off on making a woman utterly unable to respond as he abused her. The idea that rape is somehow about sex gone wrong is precisely why fuckers like this end up with only 5 years in prison.

I have no illusions that women have not been deemed to be worth less before and continue to be as we speak. Violent men are acquitted of raping and killing women all the time, sometimes for good reason due to lack of evidence, but it seems mostly because violence against women is paradoxically both accepted and denied. Women who report rape may never have their cases investigated. The murders of certain women — queer, of color, trans, sex workers, etc. — are generally ignored entirely. And all women are at risk for facing both police forces and juries simply not giving a shit. Rapists and killers who are convicted often get slaps on the wrist. This happens all over the country, all of the world.

But usually, thank god, the accused has not admitted to his crime. Usually, a man who is sentenced for raping and killing a woman hasn’t stood up in court and said that yup, he did it. I understand why plea deals exist, as much as I hate them. But they are often used inappropriately because people are apathetic and because it’s just plain easier. A woman is dead solely and entirely because a man decided to drug and rape her, and he may not see five full years in a jail cell. Yeah, I’d say that this is one of those inappropriate times.

Quantifying the worth of another human’s life is often obscene and always difficult. In situations like this one, though, we have no choice but to do it. And people, even those of us who are women, are worth a hell of a lot more than this.

via SAFER.

0 thoughts on “This is How Much a Woman is Worth in America

  1. kissmypineapple

    This is the most horrifying thing I’ve heard in a very long time. I can’t get my mind around the fact that there are judges in the world who believe that this sentence fit the crime. Their entire reason for their jobs is to mete out justice, and every day they fail miserably when the justice being meted out is for a woman. I’m heartbroken over this report. Obviously, I’m also terribly angry, but beyond anger I am just absolutely heartbroken.

    Reply
  2. sara

    What charge did this fuckface plead guilty to? Third degree rape or something? I cnat believe that a rape charge carries that kind of ridiculously light sentence.

    I hope the fucker gets put in a cell with a 300 lb inmate who ass rapes him, whores him out to other prisoners, and then shanks him.

    Reply
  3. Feminist Avatar

    As I understand US law (aka through watching law and order), if you accidently kill someone when robbing their home, then it is felony murder. The fact you had no intent or it was an accident is not the point. If you kidnap someone and they end up dead- felony murder. It is despicable that if you add rape to a scenario the crime becomes so much less serious.

    Reply
  4. Morgan

    The worst thing about this is some district attorney made this plea deal for 5 years. It is bad enough that his guy admitted to this, but the fact that a district attorney, someone who is supposed to be committed to protecting our society not only allowed, but facilitated this. The district court judge that accepted the plea was a woman too, you would think if someone raped, and subsequently murdered her, she would want that asshole to spend more than 5 years in prison.

    Reply
  5. Cara Post author

    The district court judge that accepted the plea was a woman too, you would think if someone raped, and subsequently murdered her, she would want that asshole to spend more than 5 years in prison.

    Well, I would of course hope that any man would also feel the same way. But I do agree that these kinds of things sting a little bit more when it’s women making the decisions.

    Reply
  6. lindsey

    I called Catherine Perry’s office to ask if they could give me any information or any insight to the reasoning behind such a light (and sickening, and depraved, and irresponsible) sentence. I was directed to the US Attorney’s office but I don’t have time to call right now. If anyone is interested, the phone number is 314.539.2200.

    Reply
  7. Betty Boondoggle

    so, for admitting that he drugged and raped and killed this woman, plus who knows how many other women he’s drugged and raped he gets five fuckinkg years.

    Add St.Louis to the list of cities I’m never setting a fucking foot in.

    Reply
  8. konstanze

    Prosecutors said they had evidence Berger wanted to have sex with 100 women, was close to his goal and had given similar drugs to other women.

    So they know the guy is a SERIAL RAPIST. Five years? This is beyond disturbing.

    Reply
  9. eruvande

    If he had planned to *murder* 100 women, he’d be in prison for life and probably end up on “Most Evil.” As it is, when they let him out in 3 years or so (I don’t think for a minute that they’ll make him do the whole sentence, not if they issued that joke of a sentence in the first place), he’ll just pick up where he left off and probably reach his goal. Only this time, he’ll probably murder the women on purpose because he’s felt the thrill and experienced the lack of punishment. And only then will anything of substance happen to him. Gah.

    Reply
  10. Thealogian

    General Comment: There needs to be a movement within the Feminist Community that specifically tries to address how the media uses “sex” and “rape” and some sort of rating of media outlets in terms of how they use those words–so, let’s say that Fox News never uses the word rape, they get a zero; Ms. Magazine uses appropriate language all the time, they get a 10–and then once that rating is conducted, there will be a push for news organizations to sign an agreement that demands the proper use of the word “sex” for sex and “rape” for rape and other terms (like say when a 12-year old girl is raped–they say rape, not “had sex with a 25 year old man” etc). It would be voluntary, of course, but just like consortiums that sign-on to fair wage practices or eco-friendly manufacturing, NEWS ORGANIZATIONS NEED TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR LANGUAGE, BECAUSE THEY DIRECT THE CONVERSATION.

    Specific: Are they trying to investigate any of the other rapes he’s responsible for? They need to.

    Reply
  11. Robet

    This was my Victim Impact Statement to Judge Perry at the sentencing of John Berger on April 4th: To the Honorable Judge
    Catherine D. Perry,

    My name is Robert Insalaco, I am the cousin of Tressa Gross, and it is my honor to speak on her behalf today. Simply stated, we are here today for one reason: A list. Tressa died so she could be included on a list. Mr. Berger inspired to have sex with 100 different women and went to evil and extraordinary measures to reach that goal. His objective lead to the death of Tressa Gross and has left our family devastated to this day.

    What makes her untimely death even more devastating is that we aren’t dealing with an individual of little intelligence. We aren’t dealing with an individual who didn’t understand the paraphernalia he was handling. Quite the contrary: Mr. Berger is a learned man. With premeditation, he methodically researched his available options and decided that the “date rape” chemical 1, 4 butanediol would be the weapon of his choice. With premeditation and the intent of sexually assaulting women he obtained this drug. He is a sinister, cold, calculating, sexual predator.
    We have heard from the defendant’s family members with intent to humanize Mr. Berger. No doubt you have already received many letters from Mr. Berger’s family members and friends. Certainly these letters read on behalf of the high quality character of Mr. Berger. With the hope of making a philanthropic impression, these letters and testimonials from family members will likely state to the Court, Mr. Berger’s past involvements with charities, perhaps involvement in the community or ironically in his synagogue. I ask the Court; without full disclosure of the facts, how could these personal references bear true merit? Have the author’s of those submitting positive character references taken the time to investigate the facts of this case? Only those close to the case are aware that other women were prepared to testify they were “date raped?” When these letters were written, was public information about his past charges for cocaine possession and a marijuana charge known or considered? Were they aware he filed bankruptcy and left creditors hanging to the tune of $100,000? Were they aware of a $35,000 civil judgment against him and the circumstances surrounding that judgment? When I ask these questions I am reminded of the Robert Louis Stevens novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. How many individuals have offered a positive character reference to Dr. Jekyll but have never met Mr. Hyde? Because I have witnessed first hand the results of this monsters sinister action; I know a righteous person would never knowingly provide positive comments in this venue.
    Mr. Berger has mentioned “remorse.” Finally he attempts to take responsibility for his actions and talk about how sorry he is. I ask the Court, before today, when in the last six years has he shown remorse? Was he remorseful or forward thinking of the results of his actions when he came up with methodical plan to have sex with 100 women? Was he remorseful when he deliberately drugged Tressa? Was he remorseful when Tressa lay unconscious and naked in his bed? Was he remorseful when he first chose to hide and dispose of the illegal drugs in his possession the morning of Tressa’s death before calling 911? Was he remorseful when he neglected to inform the paramedics of the illegal drugs that were in Tressa system?
    While difficult to do, I try to be objective and review this question of remorse. I think back to the early morning of her death. Due to the mixture of drugs distributed by Mr. Berger, Tressa ultimately becomes unconscious. At some point, Mr. Berger has sex with her. At some point, he leaves her unattended and later discovers her not breathing. After the aforementioned delay’s, the paramedics finally arrive; they try to revive her and at the hospital Tressa was declared dead. While no one knows for sure if Mr. Berger’s last minute self-serving delays could have prevented Tressa’s death; we do know that both his actions and his inactions speak volumes in regard to true content of his character. I hope that Your Honor will agree it is in the time of crisis that the true fabric of who we are and what we believe in is exposed.
    So I continue with this question of when remorse set-in: Was he remorseful when Tressa was declared dead? Was he remorseful when the medical examiner performed an autopsy; cutting Tressa open, and mutilating her body to remove her vital organs? Was he remorseful at Tressa’s funeral while Tressa’s family members and friends wept? All of us understand that today Mr. Berger is truly sorry. But not for Tressa: Mr. Berger is sorry only for himself and the fact that he is facing a prison cell. Mr. Berger is sorry that his own disturbing and creepy plan took a wrong turn and he found himself in trouble. No one in Tressa’s family will be fooled by the disrespectful timing of an apology. An apology today would only be made with intent to improve his position with the Court: One last selfish act, in a long sequence of impropriety.
    To further illustrate and support this claim, I ask Your Honor to visit http://www.johnberger.com/indexdead2.htm. This arrogant, self-serving website, posts comments and photos by Mr. Berger’s travels to Israel and Amsterdam. I ask Your Honor to please notice the dates of when these extravagant expeditions occurred: the year after he killed Tressa and while he was under investigation for her death. Words cannot convey the rage that takes place within our family to see this sinister man, traveling the world and flaunting himself for everyone to see. Again, regret and remorse expressed to our family today provides absolutely no solace. To the contrary, those empty words, contradicted by his own actions, are insulting to everyone in our family.
    Our family was informed that Mr. Berger’s defense team and the US Government have made a plea agreement of a five-year prison sentence. Our family also understands that it is a normal course of action, of the Court to move forward and not deviate from the plea agreement. However, I ask the Court: What type of message this sends to other sexual predators? Is the potential sentence of 5 years a true deterrent to other potential criminals? If so, what type of message does this send to our community?
    When considering accepting this sentence, we ask that the Court to consider that our family has been robbed of so many things: We won’t be able to see her graduate from college. We won’t be able to dance at her wedding. We won’t be able to hold her first child. Every day we see her contagious smile in our minds eye and on many days we still weep. The last time I saw her, I told Tressa that I loved her and she was the little sister that I never had; I miss her everyday.
    For me, the past six years have been a nightmare. As part of my personal healing process, I have tried to covertly obtain as much information as I could about the circumstances that lead to her death and provide those details to the proper authorities. I did this with the hope that justice would ultimately be served. In my quest, I learned about other women that have fallen prey to this monster. I only wish that Mr. Berger would have to stand trial so these brave women could tell their tragic stories for the record and further expose him for the true predator that he is.
    A five year term is an insult to the legacy of Tressa Gross and our family. We implore the Court to consider the results of the methodical, premeditated risks of Mr. Berger’s senseless actions and add a more appropriate and justified amount of time to his prison sentence. Send Mr. Berger a message that Tressa’s life was worth more than just fulfillment of his list.

    Respectfully,

    Robert Insalaco

    Reply
  12. Adam Young

    I knew John Berger when he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was a jerk back then.

    He was a member of the student senate and ran unsuccessfully for student body president and Madison city council.

    A columnist here in Madison (Doug Moe from the Wisconsin State Journal) wrote about Berger’s crimes in St. Louis in November of 2006, and I have updated Mr. Moe on Berger’s sentencing.

    The other question I have for Berger is how many women did he make pregnant (and then have to go through the birth or have an abortion).

    I don’t understand why he received such a light sentence considering the breadth of his crimes.

    If you care to contact Doug Moe at the Wisconsin State Journal, he email address is:
    dmoe@madison.com

    Reply
  13. tigtog

    I’ve been sitting here for five minutes trying to formulate a comment, and it’s not coming. How horrific this all is, and how disturbing.

    Reply
  14. keshmeshi

    I hope Ms. Gross’ family sues that bastard for every penny he owns, which I assume is plenty since he’s such a “successful” guy. It’s cold comfort, but it would sure be nice to see him bankrupt when he gets out of prison.

    Reply
  15. Daomadan

    This is going to be a weird comment but…

    Anyone watch any anime? Stories like this make me wish I had a Death Note to take care of bastards like this.

    Reply
  16. Steph (Tressa's cousin)

    All of her life, Tressa was a fighter. She fought for what she believed in. She fought if she felt she was being wronged. Hell, she would even fight for you if it even boiled down to it. But there is one thing that Tressa CAN’T fight for: her WRONGFUL death.

    Today marks the 6th year of that horrible, tragic day. Words can’t even express how much I miss her. And for me, myself, to read these articles and how much this case is truly impacted people, is remarkable. Because even if after her death, Tressa can still touch the lives of people.

    You know, I have her so much crap from John Berger’s family, saying things to the extent “Oh, he hasn’t even seen daylight since he has been in jail.” I mean, who cares? How do you think our family feels after six years? Berger, would you like a cookie? Five years is all you have to pay for the price of a life, a life of a beautiful, intelligent, remarkable woman who surely would have done spectacular things with her life. So, when you say “I am so very, very sorry”, don’t waste your time! If you were so sorry, you would have tried to help her. If you were so sorry, this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. If you were so sorry, today instead of remembering her life, I might be having a conversation with her on the phone or meet up with her for a drink. So, spare me that BS. I don’t feel sorry for you. Wait, yes I do. The only thing that I feel sorry for you is knowing what you took away from so many people who loved that girl, including myself. And who knows if you are even sorry.

    So as ironic as it is all this coming to a close on the anniversary of her death, Tressa, we love you. I hope you can feel that wherever you are. In some sick way, justice has been served. However, people have received larger sentences for robbing banks. But that’s another issue that makes me angry and i’m not getting into that. And, if you can’t fight for yourself, we will all fight for you, as I know you would have done for us!

    Reply
  17. Fred

    What the fuck!
    If we are going to have the death penalty in the United States why the hell don’t we use for all its worth?!
    Rape someone? Death Penalty!
    Kill someone? Death Penalty!

    Seems pretty fucking straight forward.
    This guy gets 5 years and we are sending black men and latinos to jail for 20 years for selling crack cocaine?!

    Vigilante justice is at least justice.
    Maybe we need some.

    I can’t begin to describe how much this pisses me off.

    Reply
  18. Cara Post author

    For the record, I’m strongly opposed to the death penalty. I’m not going to refuse comments that differ in opinion, but I wanted to my stance on the issue clear.

    Reply
  19. Fred

    Actually, truth be told, so do I.
    Not because I don’t believe in Death (kind of hard not to) but because I don’t believe in Death as a tool of the state. Just likely teachers beating students for misbehavior, there are lines that institutions should not be allowed to cross. However, if we as a nation are not going to force the change and the country is going to prosecute for such a penalty the priority of who it gets used on seems twisted to me. IF you are going to use it as a penalty this seems a likely instance for me.

    Plus, this story really, really, upsets me and I was venting.

    Thanks for letting me.

    Reply
  20. Renee

    Clearly the criminal justice system did not see this as rape. The language that they used made that more than obvious. By sentencing this man to five years all that they did was give tacit approval to his behavior. This is not anything remotely close to justice.

    As for the mother, I understand what it is to love a child as a mother myself. There are limits. Perhaps she felt guilty knowing that she had raised a rapist. She needs to own what her son is. Until she acknowledges what her son is all she is doing is reinforcing in his mind that his behavior was “accidental”.

    Reply
  21. anja

    all I want to say is that the article was brilliantly written, you feel the pain as if she was in your own family. I will be emailing this link to all my friends here in the uk as it is truly shocking and Tressa’s story should be heard worldwide.

    Reply
  22. anja

    ok so the story really pissed me off so I started a facebook group called tressa gross’s story where i have copied this article to, please join and send an invite to your friends so as many people as possible hear about this. If you knew tressa and would like to upload a photo then please feel free. If you would like the group removed then also just say so.

    Reply
  23. Pingback: Man With Mental Disability Sentenced to 100 Years for Sexual Assault : The Curvature

  24. Amy

    I went to high school with him but I only found out about this last night, so I Googled it and found your blog post. John always seemed off balance. I think it’s truly sick that he only got five years in prison. He certainly is a menace to society. If it were up to me, he’d spend his entire life behind bars.

    Reply
  25. bob

    Heard about this coincidentally, could NOT believe it until I verified. What in the name of god did these people have on the judge? This makes not a shred of sense. Like the Franklin county judge that let a guy walk.(date rape, same story only death-free) Judge Schaperkoetter, check it out,abducted from the Kitchen in Ladue, but tried in Franklin County.

    Reply

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