DOBSON — Prosecutors have confirmed that they are deciding whether to seek the death penalty for the three defendants in the May 25, 2012, shooting death of Mount Airy convenience store owner Donald Claude Arnder.
“We are considering the death penalty,” Surry County District Attorney Ricky Bowman confirmed Friday. “It is definitely on the table.”
Co-defendants Joshua Robert Berry, 30, Emanuel William Foster, 25, and Sarah Lynn Looney, 26, are awaiting trial for the shooting. Arnder, 58, was killed during what police believe was a botched robbery in the early-morning hours as he was preparing to close his business.
The crime touched off a multi-state manhunt to round up the suspects, involving West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina law enforcement.
Almost two years later, it remains unclear, however, when the defendants will stand trial.
Late last year, the attorney representing Foster stepped down from the case to take a job as a prosecutor elsewhere in the state, delaying the trial because his new attorney needed time to prepare an adequate defense.
At the moment, the trio have a tentative trial date of June 24, but Bowman noted it could be postponed once more.
“There is now a possibility that another attorney will have to be appointed for one of the other suspects,” he said. “The attorney representing Sarah Looney, Craig Blitzer, just won an election for district attorney in Rockingham County and he is not being challenged in the general election this year. Unless we can get this case resolved in the next few months he will be taking office in Rockingham County.”
In addition, the multiple jurisdictions involved in the case is also delaying the trial.
“Because of all the states and the federal government involvement, we’re having to work with other jurisdictions to ensure we’re ready to go to trial,” Bowman said.
Early in June 2012, Mount Airy police traveled to Roanoke, Virginia., to take custody of Foster and transport him to Surry County, where he was served with warrants charging him with murder, attempted armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Foster was taken into custody at the Roanoke City Jail, where he was taken after being treated for several days at a hospital in the Virginia city.
At the hospital, Foster was recovering from a pair of gunshot wounds allegedly sustained during the Mount Airy robbery.
Joshua Berry was brought back to Surry County on July 20, 2012, after several days on the run. He was charged with murder, attempted armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Foster was captured in Bland, Virginia.
His wife, Sarah Looney, turned herself into the Bluefield Police Department the day after the fatal Mount Airy shooting.
She was taken into custody by Mount Airy police in Tazewell, Virginia, in August 2012, and transported to Surry County, where she was charged with murder, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and accessory after the fact to murder.
The three defendants are believed by police to have been involved in an alleged crime spree spanning four states, including robbery charges in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.
Berry, Foster and Looney, also known as Sarah Berry, were from Bluefield, West Virginia, and are awaiting their trail in the Surry County Jail, where they are being held without bond.
Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangerporter.