ATLANTA, GA — An Atlanta man will serve 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to the 2016 murder of a mother of five children, Fulton County’s top prosecutor announced Wednesday. Law enforcement officials accused Jerrell Berger of shooting Stephanie Riddle to death at a hotel in Hapeville.
The shooting occurred one day after Berger had been released on bond from the Fulton County Jail, where he was held after physically attacking Riddle. “Ms. Riddle did everything right. She did everything she could to stay alive, but now she is the person dead,” District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. said in a statement.
“These cases continue to happen in our county and will continue to happen until our system carefully evaluates such incidents and substantially changes what we are doing,” he said. “This is an unspeakable tragedy that should not have ended in this fashion. Ms. Riddle should be alive.”
Berger had physically abused Riddle, his girlfriend, and several days before the shooting on July 7, 2016, she tried to end the relationship, Howard said. Berger responded by pulling several braids of hair from her head and striking her several times in the face with a metal vacuum cleaner, say prosecutors.
Riddle called police after the violent attack; they arrested Berger, but only charged him with a family violence misdemeanor, say prosecutors. Berger had four prior convictions, including an aggravated battery conviction against another woman.
A few days later, on July 6, Berger was released from jail on bond, which required him to stay away from Riddle, prosecutors said. But upon release he headed straight for her home and confronted her, hurling false accusations about other men. Neighbors called 911, but Berger left the scene before police arrived.
Riddle told police, “If you don’t arrest him, he is going to kill me.”
The next day, on July 7, Berger showed up at Riddle’s workplace, the Hilton hotel in Hapeville, say prosecutors. He chased her into a room she was cleaning and shot her six times, with the last shot fired at close range into her head, execution-style.
Berger pleaded guilty Oct. 31 in Fulton County Superior Court to one count of murder and other charges, including two counts of felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of aggravated battery, and two firearms charges. The 35-year prison sentence was handed down by Judge Robert McBurney.