A 37-year-old Gloucester man was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for the December 2010 armed robbery of the 7-Eleven store on Route 17 just outside of Gloucester Court House.
Gloucester Circuit Court Judge R. Bruce Long sentenced William Johnathan Christner to 25 years for the armed robbery, with 10 years suspended. Christner also received five years for firearm related charges. He pleaded guilty to the three charges in June.
Christner entered the convenience store around 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 22 and pulled out a gun while demanding the clerk open the cash register. Christner threatened to shoot the clerk if he pressed an alarm button, according to Gloucester Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert D. Hicks.
After receiving about $115 in cash, Christner tried to escape via bicycle through the Riverside Walter Reed Hospital campus. Gloucester Sheriff’s Office Lt. Steve Enoch encountered and pursued Christner, who wrecked the bike and fled on foot before coming up against a fence.
Enoch said Tuesday that Christner tripped twice in the snow as he was running, and he ordered the suspect to stay on the ground. Enoch said when Christner pulled out a black handgun and started to raise it, the officer fired two shots, with one striking the suspect. Christner was then taken into custody.
"It was a great deal of stress that day that I went through," Enoch said of the shooting. "It didn’t have to happen, he could have complied. It was a great deal of stress on me and my family through the holidays."
Also testifying, Christner denied he threatened to shoot the clerk or Enoch. "I did not pull that gun on the police officer. I was reaching for the money and the gun to throw in the pond. We were alone in the dark, it might have looked like that," he said.
Christner blamed his lengthy criminal record, which Hicks said included 26 separate sentencing events, on his alcohol and drug use. He said he had never been arrested when he was sober, and had been drinking vodka prior to the robbery, which occurred just 16 days after he was released from his most recent jail term.
Christner said he first tried marijuana at age 12 at his father’s urging, and was already consuming alcohol by that age. He said his father later told him he would be weak if he sought help for his addictions.
Hicks sought the maximum term of life imprisonment for Christner, whom he said had plenty of opportunities to change his life’s direction. "He’s had 20 years to overcome a difficult childhood. He’s earned every bit of the lengthy prison sentence I hope you are going to impose," he told Long.