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7-Eleven robbery charges upheld at preliminary hearing

By Joe Beck

A case involving a man accused in the robbery of a 7-Eleven store in Front Royal almost two years ago is set to be presented to a grand jury after a preliminary hearing Tuesday.

Warren County General District Court Judge W. Dale Houff certified that charges against Derek Michael Berry, 34, could be sent to the grand jury. Berry, whose address is listed in online court records as Luray, is facing charges of residential robbery; wearing a mask where not permitted in certain public places, being a non-violent felon in possession of a firearm and using a firearm in commission of a felony.

Berry also waived a preliminary hearing on several other separate, but related charges, including assault on a law enforcement officer, and felony eluding of police.

Front Royal police detective Jason Lethcoe testified that police had linked Berry to the 7-Eleven robbery at 138 W. 14th St. after DNA database findings matched Berry to clothing recovered a few blocks from the crime scene.

Police had been seeking a masked man who appeared in the store in the early morning hours of Aug. 19, 2011 brandishing a knife and handgun and demanding money. The man fled the store after taking less than $100 from the cash register.

Lethcoe and K-9 officer Jeff Grim testified that a police dog helped them find several discarded pieces of clothing they linked to the suspect within a few blocks of the crime scene.

Lethcoe said police subsequently investigated a man accused in a burglary in town, but were unable to link him to the 7-Eleven crime.

"He had a pretty solid alibi, and we dismissed him as a possible suspect," Lethcoe said.

Lethcoe said Berry became a suspect after one of the recovered pieces of clothing was sent to the DNA lab. The lab found the clothing matched a sample previously collected from Berry and stored in its database, Lethcoe said.

Lethcoe said he tracked Berry down to the Page County Jail where the defendant was serving time on a traffic offense. Lethcoe said he collected another DNA sample from Berry and sent it on to the lab to verify the earlier match.

The results tested positive, Lethcoe said. In an interview after the hearing, Lethcoe said Berry was released from custody in Page County before the DNA findings were returned to him. As a result, he said, police issued an arrest warrant for Berry, but were unable find him until he was stopped on a traffic violation in mid-November.

The traffic stop led to Berry's arrest and the filing of the second set of charges in which authorities accuse him of assaulting a law enforcement officer and eluding police.

Berry remains held without bail in the Warren County Jail.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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