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The Daily



06-06-03: Jury finds teen guilty
The Daily Standard

    A Maria Stein man was found guilty Thursday in Mercer County Common Pleas Court in a case stemming from a friendship gone bad.
    The incidents, which spanned a period from December 2001 to May 2002, involved three death threats, damage to a friend's car and the theft of his belongings.
    Darren R. Bergman, 19, 8060 Huwer Road, will be sentenced July 27 on charges of menacing by stalking, a fourth-degree felony, and aggravated menacing and criminal damaging, both first-degree misdemeanors.
    The felony carries a maximum sentence of six to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. Each of the misdemeanors offer the possibility of up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
    Jury foreman Mike Gehle handed the verdict to the court bailiff shortly after 7 p.m., ending nearly four hours of deliberation.
    Bergman looked intently at the bench as Judge Jeffrey Ingraham read the verdict one charge at a time. The tall, dark-haired man showed no emotion although his mother, Cheryl Bergman, sniffled audibly during the litany of guilty findings.
    The trial began Tuesday and continued through Thursday afternoon. During those proceedings, the jury heard about alleged incidents of Bergman sending death threats to Bohman, vandalizing Bohman's car and stealing items from Bohman. The two were friends through high school, and the incidents occurred during their senior year. Sheriff's detectives claim Bergman confessed to the crimes, saying Bohman was not paying enough attention to him.
    Prior to the verdict Thursday evening, Mercer County Assistant Prosecutor Matt Fox called a series of rebuttal witnesses, including 19-year-old Ryan Bohman, the victim, and several friends.    Bohman returned to the stand to testify about computer correspondence he had with Bergman.
    "This has been building up inside me," Bergman wrote in one of those chat room conversations.
    The defendant recounted various episodes - Bohman disobeying his orders not to throw firecrackers at a farm wagon and being told not to repeat unflattering comments made by another friend. He apparently damaged Bohman's car - a 1990 Pontiac Bonneville - in retaliation and then felt remorse.
    "I was mad what I did to your car," Bergman wrote. "So I went out and did mine."
     Bergman wrote in an e-mail dated April 27, 2002, "We have come to the conclusion we will pay for everything that happened to your car and forget about court."
    He also added none of the incidents were directed at Bohman or his family. They were intended to "bring the family (Bergman's) back together."
    After Bohman responded "Don't talk to me about this, talk to my family," Bergman wrote "Why don't you just come over and shoot me? Why go on with life without friends?"
    Brenda Broering, who also had been a senior at Marion Local High School when the incidents occurred, testified in regard to events the morning of March 5, 2002. Bohman, who had been troubled by belongings disappearing from his locker, decided to move everything to another one across the hall.
    Bergman testified earlier in the trial that he never went to the locker area that morning. However, Broering placed him among the group of friends who watched the transfer take place. The first letter containing a death threat was found in the new locker a short time later.
    Broering also testified about chat room conversations on the computer.
    "Bohman got what he wanted ... me out of his life," Bergman wrote. In response to a question regarding various incidents, he typed "You name it, I did it."
    He went on to express feelings regarding his friend's parents, Jerry and Eileen Bohman, who reportedly treated him like one of their own. Bergman feared he was "stealing them from Ryan."
    Fox also called another friend to the stand to talk about incidents the night of March 23, 2002, when Bohman's car became the target.
    Mark Evers arrived earlier than expected at the Bergman farm and saw Bohman and Bergman setting up a video camera in a nearby barn. Bohman asked him not to say anything to the other seniors who were coming to shoot off fireworks in the woods. They hoped to catch the perpetrator in the act.
    At one point Bergman and Evers left the woods and returned to the barnyard. Evers left to get food at an area convenience store and Bergman apparently headed to his house to use the bathroom.
    The video tape the jury viewed the first day of the trial gave a minute-by-minute account of what transpired. The pair returned to the barnyard at 10:37 p.m. and Evers left for the Chickasaw Quick Stop a minute later. At 10:43, there are sounds believed to be a metal barn door being opened and someone stumbling inside the building just prior to the camera angle being moved from the car. The damage - smashed headlights and fog lights - occurred two minutes later as evidenced by a shattering noise. Evers returned at 10:55 to find Bergman outside near a picnic table.
    Bergman first drew his attention to the damage at a distance of approximately 40 feet, according to Evers.
    Kip Wright, a detective with the Mercer County Sheriff's Office, testified Bergman became more nervous under questioning that occurred during the ensuing weeks in a high school conference room. He also nodded in agreement as detectives described the damage, according to Wright.
    In closing statements, Fox likened the case to a jigsaw puzzle that clearly shows a picture when all the pieces are put together.
    He described once more the terror the victim and his family experienced and how officials at Marion Local responded to the threatening letters. A lockdown was implemented and students were kept in classrooms while a systematic search of lockers was made to check for weapons.
    "This is the story of seemingly normal kids who hang around together," Fox added. "They were seniors enjoying the best year of high school. That wasn't so for Ryan."
    Bergman's attorney, Jim Tesno, admitted the case could be viewed as a jigsaw puzzle. However, he said there were too many pieces that didn't fit into a nice square outline.
    He questioned how someone so fearful for his life would go to a woods to shoot off fireworks in the middle of the night. He questioned why deputies didn't show more interest in reports a green car had driven part way up the lane the night of March 23, and he wondered aloud why detectives had not called Bergman's parents before the interrogation.
    Tesno ended by offering the jury "food for thought," asking them to consider whether someone else could have been involved - "someone with a grudge against Ryan and Darren."


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