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Child abuse charges dropped against Chuck Berry

ST. CHARLES, Mo. -- A judge dropped child abuse charges against Chuck Berry but the rock 'n' roll legend was put on two years' probation for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, his lawyer said Wednesday.

The three counts of child abuse were dropped Tuesday by Circuit Judge Lucy Rauch, said Berry's attorney, Wayne Schoeneberg. The charges alleged Berry had filmed people under the age of 17 in the nude for the purposes of sexual gratification and stimulation.

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A felony charge of marijuana possession was reduced to a misdemeanor in the bench trial, Schoeneberg said. He said Berry, 64, pleaded no contest under a plea agreement with prosecutors to the misdemeanor of possessing less than 35 grams of marijuana. Rauch found him guilty and put him on unsupervised probation.

'I feel fantastic,' Berry said at a news conference Wednesday at Schoeneberg's office. 'I hope the publicity that the charges were dropped will be as prominently exposed as when the charges were made. Then I can get on with my life.

'I cater to teenagers,' Berry said. 'All of my songs cater to teenagers. This is the part (the child abuse charges) that hurt me the most.'

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'This bears out what we said all along,' Schoeneberg said. 'There was insufficient evidence against him. It's very important that everybody knows he has been cleared of these charges.'

The probation includes no restrictions on Berry's travel or appearances, the attorney said.

Berry said adverse publicity about the case had hurt his career. He said he had played 30 concerts last year, but only three since the charges became public. He said he believed promoters were afraid to approach him because of the case.

The guitarist said he believed the charges had been prompted by someone outside the prosecuting attorney's office with a grudge against him. He said he planned to file his own lawsuit at a later date against the unidentified 'outsider' but not against the prosecuting attorney's office.

'The curtain is just rising on these allegations,' Berry said. 'The show is just about to begin.'

Prosecuting Attorney William Hannah released a statment that said, in part, 'The tapes that formed the basis of the child abuse charges were not seized during the June 23 search but were supplied to the state by a confidential informant.

'Ethical considerations prevent me from going into significant detail about this portion of the plea negotiation. Based on evidence in our possession, it would be difficult to prove the defendant had the necessary criminal intent to be convicted of child abuse regarding the videotapes in question.

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'These videotapes do not depict children engaging in sexual activities. The children did not know they were being photographed when the tapes were being made.'

Prosecutors said 24 grams of marijuana were found in June at a building in the singer's Berry Park compound in Wentzville, about 35 miles west of St. Louis, where Berry sometimes spends the night.

Berry maintained the marijuana had not belonged to him, and Hannah's statement conceded, 'The evidence would have shown it was possible Mr. Berry did not know about the marijuana in one of the locations.'

Berry announced he was making contributions totaling $5,000 to several non-profit organizations in the area to be used in various drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

All of Berry's personal papers, videotapes and rifles seized during the raid were returned to him, Schoeneberg said.

St. Charles County prosecutors announced in July they had seized evidence June 23 in the raid at Berry Park, including marijuana, weapons and more than $122,000 in cash.

Hannah admitted at the time that drug agents had been searching for cocaine during the raid but found none. Confidential informants had given details of where they said cocaine could be found in Berry's home.

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Authorities said they also had seized pornographic slides, videotapes, books and newspapers with sexual content.

As a convicted felon, Berry is barred from possessing firearms. Berry previously was convicted on tax evasion charges and violation of the Mann Act.

Berry still faces civil lawsuits filed by at least one former employee of his Southern Aire restaurant in Wentzville and by more than 200 women who joined in a class-action suit.

Both suits allege Berry videotaped the women while they were using the restrooms at the restaurant or at Berry Park. Neither Berry nor Schoeneberg has commented on the suits filed in St. Charles County Circuit Court, but the attorney said Wednesday that the resolution of the criminal case against Berry had no effect on the civil cases.

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