Crime

Berkley frantic on 911 tape

Monique Berkley, the 26-year-old widow charged with her husband's murder, walked into a Wake County courtroom Tuesday afternoon and looked directly past her family, shunning the only people who have reached out since her arrest Monday.

Monique Berkley's teenage lover, Andrew Canty, and his friend, Latwon Johnson, both 18, are also charged with the murder of Monique's husband, Paul Berkley, 46, a Navy reservist home from the Middle East for Christmas.

Monique Berkley asked the court to provide her with an attorney and then returned to her cell in the Wake County jail, where she is being held without bail.

As Monique Berkley's parents and sister sat on a wooden court bench, looking pale and withdrawn, her teenage stepchildren were in California, reunited with their mother and grandmother.

Berkley's coolness in court Tuesday contrasted with her panicked cry for help Sunday morning when she called 911 from a North Raleigh park shortly before 3 a.m. Moments earlier, her husband had been shot in the head.

Sobbing and squealing, Berkley told dispatchers she had been shot. At times, her pitched voice is barely audible above her husband's grunts and growls as he struggles to breathe. Nearly three minutes into the call, prompted by the dispatcher, Monique Berkley mentions her wounded husband.

"What is that, who is that I hear in the background," the dispatcher asked.

"My husband."

"What is he, has he been shot?"

"Yes."

"Who shot him?"

"I don't know," she sobbed.

"You don't know," the dispatcher asked.

"No," Berkley responded.

Police disagree. They say Paul Berkley died as a result of a scheme devised by an unfaithful wife, her teenage lover and his friend.

As the tale unfolds, friends, neighbors and family wonder how the Berkley family -- a young woman caring for her two stepchildren while her husband served overseas in the Navy reserves -- fell apart.

Monique Berkley was barely out of her teens when she met Paul Berkley, a twice-divorced computer entrepreneur in Southern California. They married five years ago in Las Vegas, Monique's mother, Susan Wheeler, said Monday.

She grew up in Tampa, Fla., one of five children. In 1980, the year after Monique Wheeler was born, her father, Michael Wheeler, an accountant, bought Goody Goody, a famed Tampa barbecue joint. Wheeler and his wife, Susan, owned the restaurant until September, when they sold it for $1.25 million, according to news accounts.

Monique Wheeler didn't know a soul in California when she moved there, her mother said. Newspaper accounts from California show she immersed herself in the fight for gay marriage rights and occasionally wrote letters that were published.

A few years after she married Paul Berkley, the family moved back east, trading Southern California for Clayton. Paul Berkley wanted a safe place for his children, a community where he didn't have to worry about gangs, his boss Tim Thomas said.

Paul Berkley got a job with Axis Computers in Louisburg over e-mail before leaving California, Thomas said. He worked as a senior technician there for two years before shipping out with his Navy reserve detachment in January. Thomas was holding his job for him.

After her husband was sent overseas, Monique Berkley settled into life as a single mother, according to family Web logs. She took the teenagers to Wal-Mart; she washed cars with Becky -- both young women wearing their "hot new swimsuits." She hung out with her stepson Zeke and his friends as they played in his punk rock band.

Monique Berkley, like her step-children and husband, also kept a blog. There she posted photos of one of Zeke's concerts and wrote about neighborhood gossip. Her Web log profile reads: "Either you know me or you don't. A handful of words (of my own choosing no less) would only describe me as perfect and probably not accurately at all."

Zeke often brought home Andrew Canty, a pal from Clayton High School. The teenage crew grew to include Latwon Johnson, a friend of Canty's from work. Johnson soon took up with Becky, but their relationship fizzled after he went away to East Carolina University this fall, according to his brother Lamar Johnson.

At some point this year, Monique Berkley's relationship with Andrew Canty turned sexual, according to Canty's mother, Christine Canty. He moved in with the Berkleys in April.

The couple's affair was no secret in the Berkleys' Clayton subdivision. Neighbors saw the teenager come and go all summer from the white-sided rental house on Garrison Avenue. Most, however, didn't know the full story.

"I never knew [Paul Berkley] was away in the military. I just thought they were separated," said Darrick Vick, a neighbor a few doors down. "But it was clear she'd taken up with that boy." Vick just kept waving as usual as they drove past his driveway; he figured it was none of his business.

(News researcher Susan Ebbs contributed to this report.)

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