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HILLSVILLE — In 2007, Carl Anthony "Tony" Berrier committed a string of robberies in Cana in an effort to pay medical bills after his wife was hurt in a car accident.
Now, he'll spend the rest of his five-year prison term away from his wife.
Judge Brett Geisler imposed the sentence in Carroll Circuit Court last Wednesday.
People who know Berrier testified that the incidents at Speedy Cash, Cash to Go and BB&T in Cana were out of character for the hard-working man they know.
The 32-year-old Mount Airy, N.C., man previously pleaded guilty to entering the two check-cashing businesses on separate occasions with a knife and taking a total of $3,200.
A locked door at BB&T stymied his attempt there.
Authorities charged Berrier with two counts of armed robbery and one count of attempted robbery.
In the sentencing phase on May 20, character witness Doug Reavis — Berrier's ninth grade teacher and coach in Carroll — said he was surprised to hear his former student had been charged with these crimes. He felt there must have been a mistake.
He remembered Berrier as a great kid with a great attitude. Despite having a learning disability, Berrier had applied himself in class and always did well.
Reavis called Berrier a "classic overachiever" in sports, too.
"Top of the line attitude, fine young man" is how Reavis described his former student.
Craig Worrell said that Berrier had played baseball for his father, Coach Bill Worrell.
Berrier always had a smile and a positive attitude. "You didn't need to be around Tony long to realize you'd like him."
He did good things on the baseball field. Worrell said his father considered Berrier one of his favorite athletes. Berrier worked hard and succeeded anywhere in the field the coach put him.
Virgil Hawks worked with Berrier at L&L Cultured Marble, where Berrier had become a supervisor because of his dedication to the job.
It's a kind of job that requires "extreme manual labor," but Berrier always did a great job, said Hawks, who's a cousin of Berrier's wife.
Berrier would work around 50 or 60 hours a week before he was arrested in 2007. "He was always called to come in early and stay late," Hawks said. "He was always there to do what needed to be done."
Does he have a job waiting for him when he gets out of prison? Defense attorney Brandon Boyles asked.
Yes, Hawks answered. The boss there said she would take Berrier back the same day he got out of jail.
Lori Berrier explained that her husband worked hard to pay all their bills after she was in a car accident. Her Nissan Sentra got hit in the side by a pickup, and she lost use of her left leg as a result.
She had five or six medications to take, no insurance and she couldn't go back to work due to falling spells.
"He thought he could carry the load — I mean, he worked seven days a week," she said.
Have you ever known Berrier to be violent? Boyles asked.
"This man right here has never raised his voice to me," she answered.
For a while, the Berriers "fell through the cracks" because he made too much money and they wouldn't qualify for assistance.
Probation Officer Amy Brooks only found some traffic tickets and a plea of no contest to a shoplifting charge from Orange County, Fla., in 2002.
Brooks also went over Berrier's written confession to the police and a victim impact statement from a bank teller.
Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Goad questioned her about the contents of a note for the third attempted robbery at BB&T.
The note had said that Berrier needed $4,000 and he had killed before and would again.
The state sentencing guidelines call for a range of four years and eight months to eight years in prison for robbery, Brooks reported.
Tony Berrier explained to the court that the shoplifting charge stemmed from a visit to Disney World, where they were in a shop. He got separated from his family and tried to find them.
He had store items with him he hadn't paid for when he went outside after seeing his sister.
Every dime of the money he took in the robberies went to pay bills, Berrier told the court. He tried to take care of all the bills himself and he had too much pride to ask friends and family to borrow the money he needed.
"Did you ever intend to actually hurt someone?" Boyles asked.
"No, sir. I couldn't hurt nothin'," Berrier said, adding he left that note in the car and had never got in the door at BB&T.
"I would really like to apologize to all of the women at all of the places," Berrier said.
When he gets out of prison, Berrier would like to be back with his wife, start a job and move in with her mom and dad so he won't have to worry about finances.
"I will go back working," he said. "One of my passions was always to work and to please people.
"I'm very sorry for what I did. I wish I could take it all back."
Choking up, he asked the people in the court, including several tearful family members in the audience, to forgive him like the Lord Jesus Christ had forgiven him.
"All I wanted to was to take care of my wife," Berrier said.
Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Goad asked Judge Brett Geisler to impose eight years in prison for Berrier, the top of the range recommended by the sentencing guidelines.
"Robbery is one of three most serious crimes in this society today," the prosecutor said.
These are terrible offenses that affect the people of the community. Goad recalled the teller who now cannot go out in public and feels suspicious that all the bank customers might be robbers.
"What we have here is a man that was put into a very stressful situation," Boyles countered.
His wife was injured and couldn't work and bills were piling up and Berrier was already working seven days a week.
Berrier cooperated fully with police, showed remorse for his crimes and has an employer ready to take him back immediately.
But Goad worried that Berrier went back after the first robbery and seemed to escalate, as shown by the note written for the third attempt.
Geisler said there's no question that this is a sad situation.
The character witnesses seemed to make an impression on the judge. "I do believe this is not representative of who Mr. Berrier is and what he does," Geisler said.
Regardless, he committed these crimes and made an already bad situation worse.
Maybe Berrier didn't mean to harm the women he encountered in the robberies, but there's no way they could have known that, the judge said.
This experience has changed their lives.
"In essence he abandoned his wife, ironically, in trying to help her," Geisler said.
Geisler gave Berrier 30 years to serve on each count, running concurrently. The judge then suspended 25 years on each count.
In the end, Berrier will serve five years with credit for the nearly two years that he's been in jail already.
He will have to pay $3,200 to the two check-cashing businesses.