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.