ABINGDON, VIRGINIA — The three people convicted in the killing of Mount Airy convenience store owner Donald Claude Arnder were sentenced in federal court Tuesday.
Joshua Robert Berry, 32, Emmanuel William Foster, 27, and Sarah Looney Berry, 28, of Bluewell, Virginia, had pleaded guilty in May to charges connected with a 2012 armed robbery spree that spanned three states and ended with Arnder’s death.
The Nov. 15 sentencing hearings for all three defendants were held in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, in Abbingdon.
Joshua Berry was sentenced to 734 months in prison, or about 61.2 years, and Foster was ordered to serve 749 months, or about 62.4 years.
Both were convicted on one count of using a firearm in the commission of an armed robbery that resulted in the death of another person, two counts of armed robbery, two counts of brandishing a firearm during those armed robberies and one count of conspiring to commit armed robbery.
Sarah Berry was sentenced to 412 months, or about 34.3 years, on one count of using a firearm in the commission of an armed robbery that resulted in the death of another person and conspiring to commit armed robbery.
“These three individuals acted in a violent and irresponsible manner that ultimately robbed a man of his life,” United States Attorney John P. Fishwick said in a statement released Wednesday. “The sentences imposed today righteously punish these three for the manner in which they terrorized a community for well over a month while they committed violent armed robbery after violent armed robbery. I am glad to see justice done here today.”
According to information provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Joshua Berry and Foster entered Eddie’s Zip Foods shortly before midnight on May 25, 2012.
Arnder and his employee, Gerardo Rojas, were reviewing the days’ receipts and getting ready to close the store at midnight when the two men entered the store, Joshua Berry carrying a rifle and Foster carrying a handgun.
“Joshua Berry admitted today that he and Foster entered the store and that Foster and Arnder, who had a .38 caliber revolver, exchanged gunfire,” Brian McGinn, public information officer, stated in the release.
Foster shot Arnder twice with a .9 mm handgun, once in the arm and once in the abdomen.
The 58-year-old shop owner died at the scene.
During the exchange, Foster was shot once, McGinn said.
After Joshua Berry carried Foster to Sarah Berry’s waiting car, the two brought Foster to a nearby residence and tried to remove the bullet themselves, eventually taking Foster to a Virginia hospital for treatment.
Sarah Berry admitted to driving the getaway car in two other previous armed robberies.
On April 29, 2012, the trio stole $4,317 from Marquee Cinema in Wytheville, Virginia, after Foster held a gun to the manager’s head and threatened to kill him if he didn’t open the safe.
Almost a month later, the group left with $200 from an Abingdon Cinemall register, having entered wearing full-face masks, hoodies and sunglasses, “and once again had guns drawn,” McGinn stated.
The trio were apprehended shortly after the Mount Airy shooting and eventually indicted in Surry County with felony murder, felony conspiracy and to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon and felonious attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon.
Sarah Berry had additionally been charged with misdemeanor accessory to murder after the fact.
Those charges are still pending in state court. Each defendant is scheduled to appear in Surry County Superior Court on Dec. 6.
“The Mount Airy Police Department and the Surry County District Attorney’s Office have been quietly working with several law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2012 in an effort to bring the three accused to trial in the most efficient and fair manner for all states, communities, law enforcement agencies, defendants and especially for the victims,” District Attorney Ricky Bowman said in a statement.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony P. Giorno confirmed in June that “all the prosecution options remain open,” and that the resolution of the trio’s federal cases, “doesn’t impact the right of the state to go after them.”
Giorno prosecuted the case with Assistant United States Attorney Zachary T. Lee.
According to court documents, the sentences imposed on the three co-defendants are to run concurrently with any future sentence imposed in Surry County Superior Court.
Bowman described the federal sentences as “essentially meaning the two principals involved in the murder of Mr. Arnder each received the equivalent of a life sentence.”
The district attorney thanked Giorno, Lee and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their work in prosecuting the case.
“We are also thankful to all the law enforcement agencies involved and especially to the Mount Airy Police Department and Detective Brad Quesinberry for their hard work which made their conviction possible,” he said. “Also, we appreciate the patience of the Donald Arnder family that allowed the U.S. Attorney Office to investigate the three state crime spree, seek approval from Washington and then prosecute and have the trio sentenced accordingly.”
Tully Welborn, Arnder’s nephew, has spoken on behalf of his victimized family in the past but could not be immediately reached for comment following the sentencing.
The plea agreements signed by the defendants included sentencing guidelines that set mandatory minimums that left them each vulnerable to life sentences.
Each defendant filed a motion prior to the sentencing hearing that would have reduced those guidelines. Giorno signed an additional motion to reduce Sarah Berry’s sentence, citing that she “provided substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution of another person or persons who have committed offenses.”
Each of those motions was denied by the court in the hearing Tuesday.
McGinn indicated that the defendants have the right to appeal both their convictions and sentences.
“There is no parole in the federal system, so the defendants will serve the time they were sentenced to, minus any good behavior time they might earn while incarcerated,” he said in an email.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.