The man who shot a stranger last December in a popular Charlottesville commercial district adjacent to the University of Virginia learned his jail sentence Tuesday.
Anthony Marcus Paige, 29, will spend eight years behind bars, Charlottesville Circuit Judge Claude Worrell decided.
“It’s a completely unprovoked attack,” said prosecutor Nina-Alice Antony, who urged Worrell to fix the sentence at that level, about a year and a half above the upper range of the sentencing guidelines.
It was an emotional hearing that included tearful testimony from the victim’s mother as well as regretful statements from the perpetrator and his mother. The 24-year-old victim, Airrick Salisbury, attended but did not speak at the hearing.
“He took one bullet,” said the victim’s mother, Jessica Irving. “It changed everything.”
Irving recounted an array of wounds: a collapsed lung, a damaged aorta and pancreas, spleen removal, and months of paralysis and use of a colostomy bag.
“It took all his independence from him,” Irving testified. “He’s not that happy-go-lucky guy he was before.”
A multi-sport athlete who graduated from Monticello High School, Salsibury was living on his own and working at UVa’s Runk Dining Hall when he went out with friends to the Corner by the school in the early morning hours of Sunday, Dec. 18.
Video shown in court depicted the minute in which Salisbury’s life changed. A pair of passing cars suddenly halt on 14th Street near Christian’s Pizza and Boylan Heights, and a man approaches Salisbury.
“They get out of the vehicles and go directly to Mr. Salisbury,” said Antony, the prosecutor. “He starts getting punched immediately in the face by Mr. Paige.”
The video shows Salisbury attempting to escape the confrontation, but Paige continues attacking until Salisbury flips Paige to the ground. Paige then fires his handgun.
The video also shows that police arrived within seconds. Salsibury reportedly reached UVa Medical Center within minutes.
“But for UVa this is a homicide,” said Antony. “This very nearly cost the life of Mr. Salisbury.”
Paige’s lawyer, David Heilberg, did not dispute any of the facts presented, but he did urge compassion for his client, who has been a victim of at least two instances of violence.
The first was in 2013, when Paige was a ninth-grader sitting on a sofa at a friend’s house playing Xbox video games, his mother Chanel Wilson testified. A troubled man inexplicably slashed Paige’s face.
Heilberg filed a photograph of that injury under seal, presumably because of the gore. However, a grainy black-and-white version of it remains in the case file of Tony Savalas Page, no relation, who was convicted of malicious wounding and sentenced to 4 1/2 years behind bars for that attack.
“He’s slashed from ear to chin across the entire cheek,” noted Heilberg.
The other violence to befall Paige occurred just two months before the Corner shooting. On Oct. 23 on the Downtown Mall, a hail of gunfire began inside Lucky Blue’s restaurant that killed Paige’s brother, 31-year-old Davonn Jamar Wilson. The suspect charged in that case faces trial in February.
After the violence that Paige endured, Heilberg said, his client was legally and understandably carrying a gun.
“He clearly was armed because he was afraid,” said Heilberg, who said his client regrets firing it.
“He’s thrown to his back and he acts instinctively,” said Heilberg.
It was only after his client’s arrest, said Heilberg, that Paige was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD.
“If he had been in proper therapy, we wouldn’t be here,” said Heilberg, who offered no clue about his client’s motive in attacking a stranger.
Paige pleaded guilty to three charges, including malicious wounding, in July. The full sentence imposed Tuesday was 28 years, minus time that Worrell suspended. Paige’s accomplice that evening, Mariah Shavone Smith of Staunton, has also pleaded guilty to attacking Salisbury and will be sentenced in January.
Paige took the opportunity to speak at the Oct. 10 sentencing hearing, and Salisbury and his mother stood to listen.
“I would like to start off by saying I am truly sorry for my actions,” said Paige. “I take full responsibility for everything.”
Paige said that he was drunk at the time of the attack but noted that he didn’t consider that an excuse.
“I just made some terrible decisions,” said Paige. “I thank god Mr. Eric survived.”
The judge seemed to take note that Paige has a prior arrest for having a gun while selling drugs as well as a prior conviction for carrying a concealed weapon.
“Every time there’s a significant offense, there you are in possession of a firearm,” said Worrell. “Your use of it was extraordinarily bad.”
Worrell also noted the tragedy for everyone in a case that drew nearly 20 friends and family of the perpetrator to the gallery of the main courtroom in Charlottesville Circuit Court.
“We are not in a position in the criminal justice system to fix you,” said Worrell. “Most of it is going to be up to you.”
Paige’s mother declined a request for comment for The Daily Progress, but Salisbury’s mother urged healing — and not just for her son.
“They are a family as well,” said Irving. “They have to get along; they have to heal as well.”