Case against driver in deputy's death going to jury
Pontiac — An Oakland Circuit Court jury is scheduled to begin deliberating Thursday the fate of a Macomb Township man charged with intentionally using his car to hit and kill an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy nearly two years ago.
Christopher Berak, 24, is charged with first-degree, premeditated murder and homicide of a police officer in the Nov. 23, 2017, death of deputy Eric Overall, 50, a 22-year veteran.
In closing arguments Wednesday, assistant prosecutor Ken Frazee urged jurors to consider Berak’s “words, actions and deeds,” which they had heard about during the week-long trial, which featured 33 witnesses and 120 exhibits.
Frazee said Berak was “angry at law enforcement” that night after police stopped him twice, gave him a speeding ticket and pursued him — all in less than three hours. Frazee reminded jurors of Berak’s cell phone recordings, alarming statements he made to police and disturbing texts he sent to friends.
At various times, Berak boasted in recordings that he was “God” and “Satan” and “the Creator.” He cursed at police and vowed to kill “anyone who tried to touch him” and to “destroy” others. At one point during the drive, he texted a friend: “Don’t forget about me bro” and “this is the last straw.”
In one phone recording, Berak could be heard saying, apparently to no one specifically: “If you touch me, I will kill you … Do you understand?”
“He went out looking for someone in law enforcement,” Frazee told jurors, retracing Berak’s drive from his Macomb County pizza delivery job, to his home 45 miles into Lapeer County, and finally to Oakland County.
“He thinks he can do whatever he wants and is planning something and will not be coming back,” Frazee said.
“This was all a conscious choice and he was in control the whole time,” Frazee told the jury. “Well, you are in control now and I’m asking you to find him guilty as charged.”
Defense attorney Stephen Rabaut described Berak as a “troubled young man” but said the death of Overall, who was run over along the shoulder of M-15 near Seymour Lake Road in Brandon Township, was “strictly accidental” and a “reflex action” rather than anything planned or intentional.
Rabaut said that at all times Berak was followed by deputies, he drove the speed limit and remained in his own driving lane.
Berak was a subject of a 22-mile pursuit, by Lapeer County deputies shortly after midnight, prompted after he showed up, acting strangely, at that sheriff’s office and adjacent jail, deputies testified. Stopped once, he refused to unlock the door of his Saturn or get out of the car, instead speeding off after threatening to take off his seat belt and drive into a tree.
Deputies followed him from a distance while a dispatcher alerted Oakland County authorities that Berak was headed their way.
During the trial, an accident expert detailed howOverall tossed “stop sticks” to disable Berak’s car, which veered off the roadway and hit the deputy.
Rabaut argued there was no intent to kill and Berak likely was distracted and possibly didn’t even seen Overall. Testimony showed Overall was in full uniform and had his vehicle’s headlights shining on him as he stood on the side of the intersection, also illuminated by an overhead light.
Berak’s speed was estimated at 42 mph and the impact sent the vehicle, with Overall “launched” off the hood, into a wetlands, where Berak was arrested without further incident. Overall was pronounced dead at a hospital.
“After the accident, a deputy went to check on Berak’s physical condition when he had been placed in a patrol car,” Frazee told jurors. “He winked at the deputy.”
During a stop earlier in the night where he was ticketed going 62 mph in a 45-mph zone, Berak had ignored a Shelby Township officer’s instructions to remain in his Saturn, explaining he “was a child of God and has rights.”
Berak told the officer he had just left his job as a pizza deliveryman and was “zoning out” on his way home. A fellow employee testified the pair had smoked marijuana less than an hour earlier.
Berak pleaded not guilty to the charges, which can carry a penalty of up to life in prison without parole. Judge Leo Bowman, who is supervising the trial, advised jurors they could also consider lesser offenses of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, which includes gross negligence.
Berak , who reportedly has a history of mental problems, had been previously examined by psychiatrists and found to be mentally competent to stand trial.