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Guilty verdict in ’02 stabbing death

Man, 85, was his 2nd murder victim

– An Allen Superior Court jury convicted Joseph Kast on Friday in the 2002 slaying of 85-year-old Claude Berkshire.

It is the second murder conviction for Kast, who in 2003 admitted to killing Huntington County building inspector Earl Bowman on July 3, 2002.

Kast, 35, was serving a 55-year sentence for Bowman’s murder when he wrote a Fort Wayne police detective a letter about Berkshire’s June 24, 2002, death.

The elderly Fort Wayne man appeared to have been preparing to feed some birds in his garage before heading to morning Mass at a nearby Catholic church, as he did every day, when someone attacked him from behind.

He bled to death from multiple stab wounds.

Until Kast’s rambling confession, there was little to no evidence identifying who was responsible for Berkshire’s death.

During his confession, Kast interspersed details about Berkshire’s neat-as-a-pin white garage with statements about telepathy, seeing demon faces in wood floors, and seeing messages in garage sale signs.

Mental health experts have repeatedly identified Kast’s delusions and paranoia as issues and since he was charged in Berkshire’s death in 2010, court-appointed evaluators have had to determine whether he was competent to stand trial and whether he was sane at the time.

Along with the standard guilty or not guilty verdicts open to the jury, the panel also considered whether Kast was not responsible because of mental disease or defect, or guilty but mentally ill.

During closing arguments, Kast’s attorney William Lebrato urged the jury to notice all the inconsistencies and evident delusions in Kast’s statements to police, including claiming he killed Berkshire because he believed him guilty of a crime.

“Of course he feels justified,” Lebrato said, “because he’s absolutely insane.”

But Allen County prosecutors said that, in spite of no physical evidence tying Kast to the scene, his own statements about the inside of the garage and his description of the slaying clearly indicated his guilt.

“He knew because he was there,” Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Stineburg said.

As Judge John Surbeck read the jury’s verdict, Kast stared toward the floor in front of the defense table.

Kast faces 45 to 65 years in prison when he is sentenced in early January.

After the verdict, Berkshire’s family cried and hugged one another.

“He was a wonderful man, kind and gentle,” said his daughter, Mary Anne Berron.

She also offered sympathy to Kast’s family.

“This is not something I would wish on anybody,” she said.

“They’re suffering, too.”

rgreen@jg.net

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