Cherry sentenced to life without parole

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 18, 2006

WINDSOR – Dennie Lee Cherry Jr. will spend the rest of his life behind bars.

That was the outcome of a murder trail which ended here Thursday night in Bertie County Superior Court.

Resident Superior Court Judge Cy Grant Sr. handed down a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. That decision came immediately following the jury’s guilty verdict of murder in the first degree against Cherry, accused of killing his wife, Shirley Anne Cherry of Powellsville, on June 20, 2001.

The jury deliberated for less than three hours before reaching a decision at around 7:30 p.m.

District 6B Attorney Valerie Asbell prosecuted the case on behalf of the state

“I’m glad this part of the process is over for the family members of Shirley Cherry,” Asbell said in reference to the mother, father and sisters of the deceased, who reside in Connecticut, attending the trial.

Despite several delays in the case due to the defendant changing lawyers, Asbell stated those family members handled the prolonged stress extremely well.

“They have been very supportive throughout this process, including the trial,” Asbell noted. “I hope now they have some closure.”

The District Attorney described the events leading up to Shirley Cherry’s murder and the slaying itself as a “classic domestic violence case.”

“Shirley Cherry had been abused by Dennie Cherry for a long time and had been shot two times by him prior to being murdered,” Asbell said. “I hope this case will help victims understand that domestic violence situations sometimes do end up in murder.”

According to evidence presented by Asbell during the trial, Cherry allegedly escaped June 20, 2001 from a Gates County correctional facility Community Work crew while doing maintenance at Hertford County High School. An area-wide manhunt ensued, eventually leading local law enforcement officers to Shirley Anne Cherry’s doublewide mobile home, located at 143 B Moore Town Road near Powellsville.

There, some of the prison-issued clothing worn by Dennie Lee Cherry was discovered on the front porch.

Meanwhile, Bertie County Sheriff Greg Atkins and his officers, along with SBI agents and NC Department of Corrections officials began what would turn out to be a near 11-hour vigil outside the home in efforts to apprehend the escaped inmate. Lawmen tried repeatedly to contact someone inside the home, but with no success.

At approximately 3 a.m. the following morning (June 21, 2001) law enforcement officers entered the home, discovering the deceased body of Shirley Anne Cherry in the living room area. Dennie Cherry was found semi-conscious on a bedroom floor. He was arrested at that point.

Asbell said evidence presented during the trial revealed that Dennie Cherry’s prison-issued white t-shirt and socks were found in the bedroom. She added they were covered in blood.

An autopsy revealed that Shirley Anne Cherry died as the result of blunt trauma to the head.

“I want to thank Sheriff Greg Atkins and Detective Ed Pittman of the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office and Special Agent Dwight Ransome and Special Agent Anthony Jernigan of the North Carolina SBI for all of their hard work in this case along with all the other officers who helped with this case,” Asbell said.

Following his arrest, Dennie Cherry was sent to a hospital in Chapel Hill for medical treatment and observation and was moved to Central Prison in Raleigh, where he remained until this week’s trial.

Cherry was represented by defense attorneys Tommy Manning of Raleigh and Jim Vosburgh of Washington.

The trial began on Monday with jury selection. Evidence was presented Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning prior to closing arguments on Thursday afternoon.