Two years and six months after a Shingletown barber was accused of killing a woman he dated and starting a fire to cover it up, the man’s trial is set to begin.
Frank Alexander Berry, 48, was charged with murder in August of 2018 after authorities found a woman’s body burned in a rock crevice while fighting a 2-acre fire in Lassen National Forest.
The coroner’s office identified the woman as 50-year-old Anna Louise Coker, whom sheriff’s officials said Berry had been dating for several weeks before her death.
Berry has entered a plea of not guilty and has maintained his innocence throughout proceedings, his defense attorney, Shon Northam, said Monday. Jury selection began last week and Northam said he expects opening statements to start March 9.
Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett is serving as lead prosecutor on the case, and the trial is anticipated to last until the end of March, according to the DA’s office.
Aside from the murder allegation, Berry faces three other felony charges, two of them related to arson and one for having a gun while being a felon, according to computerized court records.
Berry remains in custody of the Shasta County Jail with bail set at $2.5 million. It was initially $1 million before prosecutor Kelly Kafel asked a judge to have it raised, saying Berry had recently sold his car, “as if he was headed out of state.”
What investigators have said
Sheriff’s investigators said the day before Coker’s body was found, she had an encounter with Berry while he camped near Battle Creek Reservoir.
According to a sheriff’s office report, firefighters in the area saw Berry kicking dirt on a campfire with flames about 6 feet high. They said Berry was acting “jittery” and said he was pacing between a vehicle and the campfire.
Firefighters told detectives they noticed a laptop, cellphone and what looked like women’s jewelry burnt inside the fire pit, according to the report.
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During the investigation, detectives spoke to one person who said they heard from someone else that Berry hit Coker on the head with a bottle, knocking her unconscious.
At an earlier hearing, an investigator said the search of Berry’s travel trailer found blood in the kitchen and living room area. He said there was an “overwhelming smell of bleach” as if someone had attempted to clean the bloody scene.
Berry was later arrested when detectives found him in a vehicle in Viola wearing a disguise that included a fake mustache, glasses, large hat and eyebrows colored with felt pen, authorities said.
“Initially Berry refused to exit the vehicle, but after approximately three minutes of negotiating with Berry at gunpoint, he was taken into custody without incident,” the report says.
Detectives said Berry also had a loaded handgun in his back pocket when they arrested him.
After prosecutors formally charged Berry, Shasta County Superior Court Judge Cara Beatty in September 2018 ordered him to stand trial.
Daniel Flynn will be the judge for the trial, according to court records.
Matt Brannon covers politics, the criminal justice system and breaking news for the Record Searchlight. Follow him on Twitter @MattBrannon_RS. Support local coverage and keep up with the North State for as little as $1 a month. Subscribe today.