Wednesday, August 25, 1999
The former Hawaii quarterbackBy Paul Arnett
is found guilty of first-degree murder
and sentenced to life
A jury deliberated about two hours today before convicting former University of Hawaii quarterback Raphel Cherry of first-degree murder.
Fifteen minutes later, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Cherry, 37, was found guilty of the December strangulation death of his wife, Jerri, 25, at their Jacksonville, Ark., home.
The incident occurred three days before last Christmas.
Prosecutors said the couple had been arguing and that Cherry had been served with a subpoena from a divorce lawyer on the day his wife died.
Cherry's defense lawyer, Dale Adams, contended Jerri Cherry could have died from a blood illness.
Cherry played in the National Football League for the Washington Redskins in 1985 and for the Detroit Lions in 1988 as a defensive back.
Cherry was charged with first-degree murder, but discounted the state witnesses' allegations that the victim feared the defendant shortly before her death. Adams said in court that she had given Raphel Cherry a birthday present three days before her death.
"They were hugging and kissing in public," Adams was quoted as saying in yesterday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.
Deputy prosecuting attorneys John Johnson and John Hout disputed that remark by claiming she feared her husband. She was living with relatives at least two weeks prior to her death.
They said in court yesterday that Raphel Cherry was served papers by his wife's divorce attorney, who wanted a financial statement regarding his NFL pension.
The state's key witness was Eugene Cherry. He told police that his brother, Raphel, said the morning of her death that the couple had had a fight.
All of this came as a shock to three members of the UH coaching staff, including head coach June Jones.
"I knew he was in jail, but I had no idea it was for murder," Jones said yesterday morning. Jones was Cherry's offensive coordinator during the 1983 season.
"It just makes you sick for him and his family," Jones said. I knew he was in trouble. He called me probably in early January. I've tried to help him when I could through the years. It's a sad day for all of us."
Cherry played football for the Rainbows from 1981-84. Under the guidance of Jones, Cherry threw for 2,478 yards and 18 touchdowns in 1983. That season, Cherry set 22 UH records and tied five others.
"Raphel and I were team captains together," assistant coach Rich Miano said. "We played in the Hula Bowl together. We roomed together. We lived together. It just breaks your heart.
"If it's true, it's very tragic. I mean, what can you say? First Mark Tuinei and now this. It's a very sad situation for both of their families."
Jacksonville officers found Jerri Harris Cherry, 25, in her home after Eugene Cherry told police he feared for her safety. He and his wife went to the house, knocked on the back door, but got no answer.
The couple contacted the police, who arrived at the scene at 3:30 p.m. and found Jerri Cherry dead. There were no visible signs of trauma. A Jacksonville police spokesman said detectives believed she was strangled. Later that evening, police arrested Raphel Cherry and charged him with first-degree murder.
"It's such a sad situation," a subdued George Lumpkin said. The UH associate coach recruited Cherry out of Los Angeles in 1981. "He was such a talented athlete. It's hard for me to understand or comprehend."
Cherry is second to Garrett Gabriel in all-time passing yards for the Rainbows with 5,046. He threw 28 touchdown passes.
Cherry is third in total career yards with 5,944 and touchdowns with 43. Only Gabriel and Michael Carter have better totals in both categories.
The Associated Press contributed to this report