Ber pleads guilty in murder of Albert Lea man

Published 10:21 am Friday, July 20, 2012

ST. PAUL — A St. Paul man on Friday admitted he intended to kill Albert Lea resident Po Lye last November when he walked into his apartment and saw Lye sleeping on his couch.

Pah Ber

Pah Ber, 49, said he assumed Lye was having an improper relationship with his wife, so he began arguing with him. Then he grabbed a knife from the kitchen and stabbed Lye, 40, first in the stomach and then in the neck, killing him. Then Ber went to find his wife, Paw Pree, 40, and stabbed her in the eyes, intending to blind her.

The admission came Friday as Ber pleaded guilty in Ramsey County District Court to one count of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault, causing great bodily harm, tied to the incident Nov. 19. He initially faced a count of attempted second-degree murder in connection with Pree’s injuries.

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The guilty plea was part of an agreement with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office. Ber had been scheduled to enter the same plea a week ago but at the last minute rejected the offer.

He appeared in custody Friday in a dark green Ramsey County Jail jumpsuit, answering “yes” or “no” questions that were asked by Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Juan Hoyos. He spoke through an interpreter speaking Karen.

Dennis Gerhardstein, public information officer with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, said state guidelines call for a sentence between 28 and 39 years, if the sentences are served consecutively.

Ber’s lawyer, Marcus Almon, asked the sentences be served concurrently.

“He’s always been remorseful for what he’s done,” Almon said after the hearing. “He’s always wanted to get this resolved.”

The maximum penalty is 40 years in prison.

Gerhardstein said too often domestic violence leads to homicide.

“In this case we have one man losing his life, and a wife and mother injured at the hands of the defendant,” Gerhardstein said. “Today’s plea allows for some healing to begin and spares the family the stress of a jury trial. We sincerely hope that the judge will hold the defendant accountable for his actions.”

Lye had reportedly been living in Albert Lea for about a year at the time of the stabbing. He was among about 200 Karen people residing in Albert Lea.

The Karen people originate mainly from Burma but also a small part of Thailand. They comprise 7 percent of the Burmese population and have been a minority persecuted by the Burmese military. Many have immigrated to Minnesota under federal refugee-protection laws.

Lye worked at Albert Lea Select Foods. A representative of the Karen Organization of Minnesota said in an interview last year that Lye did not have family in Minnesota but did have friends in Albert Lea and St. Paul.

Almon said in court that given Ber’s immigration status, he will likely be deported once his sentence is over.

His sentencing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 31.