After four-and-a-half years in limbo, the family of slain shopkeeper Donald Arnder has found a measure of peace with the sentencing of his killers in federal court last week.
“We feel like we have closure,” said Tully Welborn, Arnder’s nephew and family spokesman.
“I talked to my parents over the weekend, and we feel like we’ve done the best job that we can do for Don.”
Arnder was shot and killed during a May 25, 2012, armed robbery attempt at his Mount Airy store, Eddie’s Zip Foods.
The two men who entered the store that night, Joshua Robert Berry, 32, and Emmanuel William Foster, 27, were sentenced Nov. 15 to about 61 years and 62 years, respectively.
Sarah Looney Berry, 28, who drove them to and away from the scene, was sentenced to 34 years.
“I think they got pretty decent sentences considering the world we live in today,” said Welborn, who hadn’t been at all confident of that outcome.
Leading up to the involvement of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Welborn had been vocally critical of what he considered the failure of the Surry County District Attorney’s Office to prosecute the defendants locally.
After the U.S. Attorney’s Office became involved, plea agreements signed in May by all three defendants set mandatory minimum sentences at about 32 years for the men and 10 years for Sarah Berry.
Welborn said he was advised by the federal prosecutors that in the event those minimum sentences were returned, the defendants could still be given additional time in state court.
While each still faces charges in Surry County, Welborn said he considers the federal sentencing sufficient, Welborn said.
“I don’t think they’re going to get a greater sentence than what they received for their federal charges,” he said. “It probably worked out for the best, quite frankly, for it to be federal.”
Welborn’s own words may have contributed.
He spoke during the hearing last week, reading from a prepared statement that not only detailed the family’s pain and anguish but fleshed out who Arnder was as a man.
“When Don was 13 years old his father died from a heart attack. Don then tried to bear the responsibilities as the man of the house,” Welborn stated. “He continued his education and graduated from high school. When he could, Don worked at whatever jobs he could find (e.g. harvest tobacco) to help his mother with household expenses.”
Arnder continued to work two full-time jobs for many years to support his mother, finally saving up enough to purchase Eddie’s Zip Foods.
“As the owner he tried to help the community by allowing frequent customers, who lived on a fixed income, store credit to purchase milk, bread, and food items until they received their social security checks. He also supported community churches with generous donations. He loved the elderly people in the community and would bake them cakes for their birthday,” he continued, noting how about 200 people attended a vigil in Arnder’s memory.
“When Sarah Berry, Joshua Berry and Emmanuel Foster, thinking only of their own greed and lack of concern for their fellow man, killed Donald Claude Arnder, they affected more than just our family, they affected an entire community that cared for and depended upon Don and his kindhearted and generous services to the community,” he stated.
Welborn asked that the defendants receive the maximum sentence and concluded with a message from Arnder found in his last will and testament:
“I would like to take this time to say ‘Thanks’ to each of you for making my life a very happy one. We all had many good times together. I am sorry I had to leave you all behind but it was God’s Will. I just hope that at some point in time I did something good for each of you that will be cherished as a good thought toward me. Carry on my friends. Live each day to the fullest – one day at a time. May God bless you all.”
“Judge (James) Jones was really a great judge,” Welborn said. “He listened to everything that was being said, he took what they had to say into account, what I had to say into account, and made his ruling. I commend him on his actions of justice being served as far as we’re concerned.”
Some lingering frustrations with the local prosecution were put to rest with a letter to the editor penned by Welborn, which was published in the Sunday edition of The News. An editorial published Sunday also addressed the issue.
“Reading those two articles really did it for me,” Welborn said. “We’re good, we have closure, we’re moving on, with our upcoming Thanksgiving together and Christmas and everything. We certainly miss Don and we’ll always miss him. We have fond, great memories of him.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.