Federal judge shot in Detroit recovering, speaking out

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

More than a year after U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg was shot outside his Detroit home, he’s preparing to participate in a peace rally Friday and, in coming weeks, possibly testify against his alleged assailant.

A second “Walk for Hope” is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. in the Gesu Catholic Church on the city’s west side. Berg, a member of the parish, also called for an end to “the scourge of gun violence” while attending last year’s event there.

The federal jurist said his experience has left him more compassionate.

“One thing I think it definitely has done, is made me able to empathize more with victims of gun violence,” he told WXYZ-TV (Ch. 7) in an interview that aired Thursday. “The ironic thing is, in many of our criminal cases, when we read about the background of the defendant who’s charged — many of them have been gunshot victims as well. And so that also gives me a little bit of insight into that kind of challenge and that kind of suffering that that person had to go through.”

Berg was shot and wounded March 5, 2015, while on his front porch in the city’s University District during what investigators called a robbery attempt.

He told police one man demanded to be let inside his house while another shot the judge when he refused. Berg’s wife and teen son were home at the time.

The two people involved fled in a dark-colored sedan, according to the FBI. Berg has said he didn’t recognize the men and thought the incident was random.

The alleged trigger man, Detroit resident Kevin Smith, was arraigned in December. He has an upcoming court hearing scheduled for Tuesday before a trial is slated to begin in April. Another man, “Unnamed Defendant #2,” also was charged in the case. He is being called a “cooperating witness.”

Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny has set an April 27 trial date on charges of conspiracy to commit armed robbery, armed robbery, assault with intent to murder, felon in possession of a firearm and felony firearm.

Like the incident that left him wounded for months, the chance to testify against Smith has also affected Berg’s outlook.

“Now I know what it’s like to be the witness or the victim too,” he told Ch. 7.

Since the shooting, Berg has undergone intensive physical rehabilitation and kept up with his docket at home.

Meanwhile, his family continues to rally around the city where they’ve lived for more than 25 years.

“This can’t be a reason to hate Detroit,” his wife, Anita Sevier, told Ch. 7. “The city is worth holding on to.”

The trial and recovery aren’t the only issues in the Berg household. Sevier said last year, a mammogram led to a breast cancer diagnosis.

“The way I felt was: ‘Really?’ A little bit of ‘Really, God?’ But that’s OK,” she said in the interview. “This is what I’m expected to handle or deal with or whatever, and so I have.”