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Trial recap: Jury finds Justin Anderson innocent of murder, guilty of tampering with evidence and making false statements


Featured Trial recap: Jury finds Justin Anderson innocent of murder, guilty of tampering with evidence and making false statements

Last week, a jury acquitted Justin Anderson of murder and aggravated assault in the 2020 death of 36-year-old Vann Brown. However, the jury reached a guilty verdict on charges of tampering with evidence and making a false statement to law enforcement. 

 

 

According to a juror, DNA played a massive role in the case, and their verdict demonstrated that the presence of Justin’s DNA on the weapon prosecutors say was used to kill Vann couldn’t be confirmed.

 

 

The trial began with Assistant District Attorney John Rumker, representing the state, and Justin's attorney, Robert Walker of Ocilla, giving their opening statements. Rumker went over the events that he stated led up to Brown's death, telling the jury that Vann was asked to leave a wedding reception held at the home of Jeffery Harper. He said that Cam Coffee was walking Vann to his truck up a hill around 200 yards from where the reception was held when a group of men, including Justin and Harper, began to follow them. 

 

 

Rumker said the men began to make threats toward Vann, telling him they would "whip his ass" as he was walking to his vehicle with Coffee. When the two reached the truck and were "taunted" by the men, Vann stated, "F*** this," and, according to Coffee, went to grab a gun from his center console. Cam then grabbed Vann, and the two fell to the ground. During the fall, Cam injured his leg, which rendered him unable to walk. He, according to Rumker, held on to Vann for 15-20 seconds and then shouted, "He's got a gun," and told the men to grab the firearm from Vann's truck. 

 

 

Rumker stated, "He never got inside the vehicle, and he never got a gun, but he got hit with a baton in the head, but no one saw the baton." He told the jury that Daniel Anderson walked by Cam, who had crawled away to a nearby fence line, and retrieved a firearm, firing one shot. At the time, according to Rumker and the witnesses' own testimony, Cam was in severe pain from his injury and unable to see the altercation. As Daniel walked by with the gun, Cam told him to put the gun up. 

 

 

At some point, Jeffery Harper's son, J.P. Harper, walked up to where the altercation occurred. According to Rumker, J.P. saw his dad on top of Vann, with Justin holding the baton in his hand. 

 

 

Rumker stated, "Justin tells J.P. that, with the baton in his hand, he hit Vann with the baton.” J.P. goes and gets the gun out of Vann's truck and gives it to his mother, Kelli Harper.

 

 

“Word gets back down the hill to Cam's wife, Annsley, that someone has been shot, so she runs up the hill and sees Cam by the fence. She goes over to him and asks if he was shot. He tells her no but that she needs to check on Vann. When she gets there, Jeffery Harper is still on top of Vann; she pulls him off and realizes he is dead. He has visible injuries to the top of his head from this baton. 

 

 

“Vann Brown's body is sent to the crime lab, and you'll hear the medical examiner testify that he died from asphyxia (when the body is deprived of oxygen) in conjunction with blunt force trauma to his head.

    

 

 

"Before Vann Brown died, he was lying on the ground, motionless. They were angry with him, and they took it out on him. Cam said he was going to get a gun, but when they got to him, he didn't have a gun. He wasn't doing anything wrong when they squeezed the life out of him and hit him with a baton. Earlier in the night, Justin walked by someone and said, 'I'm going to kill Vann Brown,' which shows his intentions that night. At some point after, Justin walks over to Matt Lewis, hands him the baton, and tells him to hide it. Matt goes and hides it in the woods, and the next day comes, and his conscious gets the best of him. He goes to law enforcement, tells them what Justin asked him to do, and takes them to the baton. 

 

 

"In Justin's interview that night with the GBI, he tells them he didn't see anyone with a baton or a gun and says he never had a baton. He denied it all. He hid evidence and lied about the evidence that implicated him. As a group, they killed Vann Brown, and they will all be held accountable, individually and as a group, but today we are asking that you find Justin Anderson guilty of murder in the death of Vann Brown." 

 

 

Walker followed, stating that Justin was at the reception and, at some point, "heard a ruckus" involving Vann and walked over to see what was happening. He stated that Justin saw a group of men trying to get Vann to leave, and he accompanied them, but then he stopped following them as Cam walked him up the hill. "He then hears, 'He's got a gun!' and that is what set the tone for what happened that night. Justin, Jeffery, and a group of men take Vann Brown to the ground. Cam Coffee suffered a severe injury that night, and he's shouting, 'He's got a gun' over and over. Justin is operating under that scenario, and someone he knows is hollering in pain. As a group, they hold Vann Brown so he doesn't get a gun. My client is on Vann's leg, Jeffery is on his torso, Vann is on his back, and Mr. Brown expires.

 

 

"The medical examiner is going to tell you he died of asphyxia. If you listen to the evidence, you will see no evidence that Justin Anderson hit Vann Brown at any point. Once the trial is complete, we ask that you see that and find my client not guilty." 

 

 

Cam Coffee took the stand first, reiterating many of Rumker's statements in his opening remarks, replaying the events before Vann's death. Cam stated that he saw Vann, someone he had known for several years, being "led out" of a tent at the reception by Jason Anderson. He was asked to help get Vann to his truck, so he began walking Vann up the hill with Jason, and soon after, Justin joined. As they were walking, according to the testimony, Jeffery, Morgan Lewis, and Daniel Anderson joined them, walking up from behind them. He stated Jeffery and Morgan were "visibly upset" with Vann and began making threatening comments to him.

 

 

Cam testified that Vann had initially fussed back with Jeffery and Morgan and that at a "halfway point" between the tent and Vann's truck, tensions continued to rise. "I had Vann, but then, when they were yelling, he went back down the hill, and Justin grabbed Jeffery, and I grabbed Vann, and they went at it verbally. I told Vann it wasn't worth it." 

 

 

According to the testimony, Cam was going to drive Vann home (Vann lived next door to Jeffery's property) but Vann insisted that he was fine and was "still leaving." Cam stated that Vann told him he hadn't done anything wrong and didn't want to leave, but he "seemed to be listening when he was told that he had to go."

 

 

Cam also stated that "they had all been drinking," but could tell Vann was "coherent" after he pointed to his home when asked if he knew where his house was at. Cam testified, "He said if he could just get to his truck, he'd be fine." 

 

 

Cam recalled that when they got to the truck, Vann opened the door, said, “F*** this shit," and reached into the truck to grab a handgun located between the seat and the center console. The gun was later discovered to be held in a quick release holster and loaded with 10 rounds. Cam stated that he grabbed Vann's arm, took his right leg, and pushed him beyond the truck, causing them to collapse. In the process, Cam severed his quadriceps tendon and couldn't get back up. He stated that Vann "got up like a bat out of hell" and ran back towards the doorway of the truck. Cam stated that he started yelling that Vann had a gun and someone needed to get the gun out of the truck before Vann did. Cam then crawled over to a fence 40–50 feet away from Vann's truck. 

 

 

Rumker asked Cam if, at "some point," he looked back to where Vann was. Cam replied that he did and saw Vann lying on his back, looking up with his feet up, with Jason on his right arm, Justin on his left arm, and Jeffery sitting across Vann's torso. He said he saw "a few more people," but due to the distance and lighting, he couldn't make out who they were. 

 

 

Cam also recalled Daniel going to grab his gun and him telling him to put the firearm away. He said the first person he saw was his wife and then J.P. Harper. Cam said he told Annsley "they" had Vann on the ground, and she needed to check on him. When J.P. walked over to him, Cam said he instructed him to get Vann's gun from his truck. 

 

 

"After J.P. got the gun, were they still on top of Vann?" Rumker asked.

 

 

"Yes," Cam replied.

 

 

Walker cross examined Cam, asking if Vann was "fighting" with Jason when he was escorting him out of the tent. Cam stated they weren't fighting but that

 

Vann "looked confused." 

 

 

"So when Jeffery Harper began advancing toward Vann Brown at the halfway point, Justin stepped in and stopped Jeffery, right?" Walker asked. 

 

 

Cam responded, "Yes."

 

 

Cam said that he was "scared" at the time that Vann was going to "shoot him or someone else." He also stated that he never saw a baton or saw Vann get struck with a gun. 

 

 

According to Cam’s testimony, Vann never "got possession of his gun."

 

 

Annsley took the stand next, stating that she recalled seeing Cam, Jason, and Vann walking up the hill with "a group of other people following behind" but didn't know who the individuals were. She said she turned away and continued speaking to other people at the reception by the tent and didn't continue to watch them walk toward Vann's vehicle. 

 

 

Around 20 minutes later, according to Annsley, a person at the reception said that someone, possibly Cam, had been shot, and she "took off running up the hill." When she got there, she "saw a group of people and could tell Vann was lying on his back, with each of his arms out, and Jeffery Harper was sitting on his torso." She stated that she remembered seeing Justin holding Vann's left arm, Jason holding his right arm, a "young guy" holding Vann's right leg, and "never saw who was holding his left leg." 

 

Annsley testified that Jeffery's back was facing her, as he was "sitting across Vann's torso looking down." She told the jury she couldn't see Jeffery's hands, and as she got closer, she told everyone to get off Vann and let her see him. "They said he had a gun, and I told them, well, he isn't getting a gun now. I pushed Jeffery out of the way, and I knew Vann was dead." 

 

 

When asked how she could tell Vann was deceased, Annsley said Vann had dilated pupils, no pulse, and was blue. She began giving CPR and said at some point, she saw Matt Lewis carrying a baton in his hand. Annsley stated the baton "appeared to be bent."

 

 

"I could tell Vann had been bleeding; I saw blood all around his head," Annsley testified. 

 

 

Walker questioned Annsley about an interview she had with the GBI at the time of Vann's death. He asked if she remembered telling the GBI she couldn't recall "what they [Justin and Jason] were holding down." She responded, "I recall it being his arms." 

 

 

Annsley told Walker during the cross-examination that she never saw Justin with a baton and never saw Vann "interact with young girls." 

 

 

The jury then heard testimony from the only man charged in connection with Vann's death to take the stand, Matt Lewis. Lewis pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence last month after he claimed that Justin handed him the baton and hid it in the woods before he took law enforcement to the weapon the next day. 

 

 

Matt testified that he never saw Vann on the ground but walked up and "knew that something had happened." He accused Justin of telling him to "get rid of the baton," admitting to throwing it into the woods, under a pile of pine straw."

"Did you ever talk to Justin again that night after you hid it?" Rumker asked. "He came up later and asked if I got rid of it, and I told him I put it in the woods," Matt replied.

 

 

Matt stated that the following day, he reported what he had done and assisted law enforcement in locating the baton.    

 

 

Rumker held up the baton, asking Matt if that was the weapon he had hidden in the woods. Matt stated that "it looked like it." He continued, "I hid a baton in the woods, and that's the one they found in the woods, so." 

 

 

"Well, did you hide more than one baton in the woods?" Rumker questioned. Matt replied that he only hid one baton in the woods that night. 

 

 

Walker asked Matt what led him to go up the hill that night. He told Walker that he saw his sister-in-law, Anna Harper Lewis, crying, and she had commented that something had happened, so he went to check. 

 

 

According to Walker, when Matt was interviewed, he described the baton as a "ball and chain," with the baton that was found in the woods not having either. Matt stated that he told GBI investigators that "it could have had a ball and chain, but he wasn't really sure" at the time.

 

 

GBI Agent Nipper, who took the stand several times throughout the trial, was called by the state to testify, specifically about the baton. Nipper confirmed that the baton in the courtroom was the same baton that Matt assisted them with locating and that it was found under pine straw in the woods on the Harper property. 

 

 

During cross examination, Walker asked Nipper if, during an interview he had with Jeffery that night, he had blood on his clothing. Nipper replied, "I believe he had blood all over him, yes."  Several other questions were asked regarding the Harper family, including an inquiry about their cooperation throughout the investigation. Nipper agreed that Jeffery's wife, Kelli, "continued to provide information throughout the investigation voluntarily." 

 

 

Jeffery's son, J.P., who is now 18 but was 15 on the night of Vann's death, testified about the events of that night. J.P. stated that he heard a gunshot, which led him to ride a golf cart with Morgan up the hill to see what was going on. He said when he arrived, he saw Cam Coffee limping and Justin on Vann's right leg with a "stick" in his hand. 

 

 

J.P. stated, "He [Justin] said, 'I got him right here with this one.'"

 

 

Rumker then showed J.P. the baton, asking him if that was the "stick" Justin was holding that night. J.P. stated that it was. The witness stated that he saw Daniel Anderson with a gun after he saw Justin with the baton and that Justin later walked up to him while he was standing with his mother. According to J.P., Justin told him to "shut up" and stated, "You don't know anything."

 

 

J.P. also recalled being told to get a firearm from Vann's truck by Coffee. He stated that he went to Vann's vehicle and retrieved a pistol from the console but couldn't remember if it was in the holster.

 

 

During cross examination, J.P. told Walker that he knew Morgan was mad that night but wasn't sure if his dad was mad at Vann. He also claimed that when he got to the top of the hill, he saw his father sitting on Vann's torso, but he couldn't remember if he was leaning over. He also said he couldn't recall if anyone else was around at the time other than his dad and Justin. 

 

 

Jeffery's wife, Kelli, then took the stand, stating that after Vann had died, Justin told her it "had to happen that way" and that they "did all they could do." She also stated that while standing with J.P., Justin walked up to them and told J.P., "Keep your mouth shut, your daddy is involved as well." 

 

 

Walker asked about Vann's behavior at the reception, and Kelli told Walker that he "made her uncomfortable" by "being in her space, rubbing on her arms, and asking her to dance." She also claimed Jeffery was "never mad at Vann Brown, that he just wanted him to leave." 

 

 

According to Kelli, J.P. had told her he saw Jeffery on top of Vann's torso, and she said she "was not trying to place the blame on Justin."

 

 

A 20-year-old woman, Kate Malphus, working at the reception as a decorator, testified that she heard Justin say he was "going to kill" Vann before his death. Rumker pointed at Justin and asked Kate if that was the man who made the threat, and she stated yes. 

 

 

However, during cross examination, Walker showed Kate a photo of several individuals at the reception. According to the testimony, during an interview with GBI, Kate identified a man in the photo who made the threat, which she said was Justin Anderson but was not. Kate explained that at the time, she didn't know Justin but saw the man who made the threat. Since that night, she and Justin have been attending the same church, and she "knew who he was more now." Again, Kate told Walker that Justin "was the man who said he was going to kill Vann." 

 

 

The last witnesses of the day consisted of the on-scene paramedic and several detectives with the CCSO. The paramedic, Victoria Davis, stated that when she arrived, she determined Vann had "an extended downtime" of greater than ten minutes and that he had no electric rhythm in his heart.

 

 

CCSO investigator Chris Wilson described the scene as "chaotic, with people everywhere" when he arrived that night. He told the jury that when he arrived, Vann's handgun was turned over to him by Kelli Harper, which he gave to another investigator, Jeremy Anderson. 

 

 

Lt. Detective Jamie Hersey brought multiple pieces of evidence that were retrieved that night to the stand, including a handgun discovered in Daniel Anderson's truck, Vann's gun and holster, a pair of Vann's glasses by his car, and a 9mm casing located by the vehicle.

 

 

The following morning, the GBI medical examiner, Dr. Mary Anne Gaffney-Kraft, testified regarding her autopsy findings, which included the cause and manner of death. Several images of Vann's injuries from the autopsy were displayed before the court. 

 

 

According to Dr. Kraft, Vann had multiple injuries, including blunt force wounds on his legs with "linear patterned bruising" and contusions, a curved pattern consistent with fingers pressed into the skin; scrapes consistent with scratches from fingernails on his left forearm; linear abrasions on his right forearm; two blunt force injuries on the top of his head; and bruising scattered across other areas of the body. She also told the jury that Vann died from asphyxia in conjunction with blunt force trauma. 

 

 

During an internal exam, Dr. Kraft discovered that the object used to cause two linear lacerations on the top of Vann's head, according to Dr. Kraft, resulted in internal bleeding, and his neck had soft tissue hemorrhage and areas of superficial hemorrhage. Vann's hyoid bone, a U-shaped "free-floating" bone located in the midline of the neck, was fractured on the right side and had an internal hemorrhage. 

 

 

"The fact that the hyoid bone showed internal hemorrhaging, but Mr. Vann's skin at the injury showed no hemorrhage tells me that this injury to the neck is asphyxial. Since there is no hemorrhage on the skin, it shows me that there wasn't a strike to the bone but was more consistent with broad pressure applied to the neck," Dr. Kraft explained. 

 

 

During the autopsy, several other findings were discovered, including the fact that a "regulated and normal" amount of decongestant medication and an antidepressant were in Vann's system and that he had an elevated level of alcohol. However, neither would have caused death, according to Dr. Kraft. 

Vann's heart was also enlarged, and he was considered obese at the time of his death, standing 65 inches tall and weighing 189 lbs. Dr. Kraft stated Vann's body mass index would not have contributed to his death and that although his heart was discovered to be enlarged, the rest of the heart was completely normal, and having an enlarged heart alone would not have resulted in his passing. 

 

 

Dr. Kraft's testimony continued, explaining to the jury that Vann's head injury would not have killed him if it had been his only injury and that a broken hyoid bone would also not have killed him by itself. 

 

 

"You have to look at the circumstances of what was happening at the time of death. The history I received from the GBI report was that a 39-year-old male was involved in a physical altercation and was on the ground, restrained, with a person on top of him restraining him, his legs and arms were restrained, and someone was on his torso. The fingertip bruising on Vann's forearm and the scratches are consistent with the history and what I am finding in my examination. Each part had a component. All of this was going on at the same time, which resulted in his passing," Dr. Kraft testified. 

 

 

Rumker asked if a person would have passed out for a period of time before dying from asphyxia. "Yes, you would lose consciousness for a period of time. That pressure would have to be continued during the time of unconsciousness for you to die from it. The Mayo Clinic has actually done studies on this, and those show that if the pressure is relieved from the person after they pass out, the person will survive." She also stated that it is hard to say how long Vann struggled before his death, but said typically greater than two minutes and less than 10 minutes, but it would have likely been less than two minutes due to Vann struggling at the time. 

 

 

"That is a broad spectrum based on the circumstances, but I do know he would have passed out and lost consciousness before his death."

 

 

Dr. Kraft closed, "He potentially could have responded to CPR if the pressure had not been continued after he passed out." 

 

 

Walker followed Rumker's questioning, asking specifically about the findings in the autopsy of Vann's enlarged heart, his alcohol level, his BMI, and the medications found in his system. Dr. Kraft told Walker that she believed that none of the factors would have contributed to his death, separately or combined, which was the opposite opinion from an expert witness that later testified on the defense's behalf. 

 

 

Justin's attorney also asked Dr. Kraft if the fingertip bruising would be consistent with someone's hands trying to hold Vann down from going to get a gun. Dr. Kraft agreed that they would be. 

 

 

Another topic of Walker's cross examination included the medical condition "bundle branch blockage," in which there is a delay or blockage along the pathway that electrical impulses travel to make someone's heartbeat. A person who is diagnosed with bundle branch blockage, according to testimony, may have a harder time with their heart pumping blood to the rest of their body. However, according to Dr. Kraft, whose husband has been diagnosed with the condition, Vann showed no signs of having this specific blockage, and a test to determine if he had the condition would have only been done if he showed any symptoms. 

Walker asked if it was not a part of her protocol to check for conditions like bundle branch blockage. Dr. Kraft replied, "Not unless I see something to indicate it. Unless you see something, you don't pull out the entire system and test for it. That's not just a part of the protocol, but just from my training and experience." 

 

 

CCSO Lt. Detective Jamie Hersey returned to the stand, followed by CCSO detective Jeremy Anderson, to show the jury additional evidence collected in the case. The items included a machete, a retractable baton, a pry bar, and a holster for a 9mm that were located in Daniel Anderson's vehicle.

 

 

The following two witnesses likely, based on a statement from a juror, gave testimony regarding one of the main factors in acquitting Justin on murder and aggravated assault charges: DNA. The witnesses, Bianca Fulks and Ronald Schmitt, both work for the GBI and perform DNA testing.

 

 

Fulks stated that she was assigned DNA testing for several individuals and that a baton was provided to her by the GBI. A chemical examination of the baton was conducted on October 21, 2021, with swabs being taken from the top to the middle of the weapon and combined with two different types of chemicals. She stated that the test was inconclusive for blood on the baton.

 

 

Later, Fulks was asked to test the handle for specific DNA by the same process, with the baton being "vigorously" swabbed to see if it could match a profile from the individuals whose DNA was submitted to the handle of the baton. The results, according to Fulks, showed that three profiles were discovered on the handle, with Justin not being identified as the sole contributor of DNA. After a conclusion could not be made on the minor contributors' DNA, the test was sent to a lab in Atlanta, where GBI DNA Analyst Ronald Schmitt completed the examination.

 

 

Schmitt followed, stating that they are "not always able to determine all the contributors if several profiles are found," which occurred during the test. According to Schmitt, of the three DNA profiles, two were confirmed to be Jason Anderson and Vann Brown, with the third not determined. The results also showed that 75% of the DNA on the baton belonged to Jason Anderson, with 12.5% belonging to Vann and the third unidentified profile.

 

 

Several individuals whose DNA was submitted, including Jeffery Harper, Matt Lewis, Morgan Lewis, and Cam Coffee, were excluded, with Justin and Daniel Anderson's being inconclusive. Walker asked Schmitt, "So, you couldn't reach an answer on the DNA from Justin?" Schmitt replied, "We just can't say if it's him or not; it was inconclusive because of the DNA percentage. I can't say it is him, and I can't say it isn't. We can say whose it is and whose it is not, but he was one of two that came up as inconclusive."

 

 

The last witness of the day was GBI agent Jason Seacrist, who interviewed Justin at 6:30 a.m. on January 1, 2020, just hours after Vann had passed. He stated that he arrived at the scene around 3:00 a.m. and interviewed Justin for about an hour. The interview video was played to the jury, with Justin telling Seacrist that Kelli Harper began "hollering," telling people to get Vann off the property because he had been "groping" young girls. He stated that he, Jason, and Cam got Vann to his vehicle, that Jeffery Harper "ran up there," and that Cam yelled out that Vann had a gun. Justin said that Cam fell, Jeffery grabbed Vann and threw him on the ground "belly up," and had him in a headlock. He stated that Vann was "trying to wiggle" and that they told him to "quit and just give it up."

 

 

"Annsley came up, and he finally quit, and I'm getting up and seeing that he's done turned white. That's all I seen happen,"Justin stated.

Justin also said as he was walking up the hill to Vann, Jeffery Harper "ran, knocked him [Justin] to the ground, and then that's when Cam fell, with Daniel coming from somewhere from the rear of the truck." He claimed Daniel had Vann's left arm and was the first to get to Vann, then Jeffery, and that he arrived next.

 

 

According to Justin, Jeffery got on top of Vann and was straddling him with his legs, holding him, and Jason was "trying to pull his left arm out to see if he had a gun." He claimed that "no one used anything" and that he was there from the beginning of the altercation to the end.

Seacrist told Justin he had "been doing this for a long time," and that based on Vann's injuries, specifically the blunt force trauma, "things were not adding up." 

 

 

"There are injuries to Vann Brown that can't be explained just by taking him to the ground and restraining him. None of that explains the injuries we have on Vann Brown, and I think you know what I'm leading to," he told Justin. 

However, Justin repeated his recollection of the events, stating that he didn't know who hit Vann and that he never told J.P. Harper to "shut up" about what had happened.

 

 

When asked how Vann received the blunt force trauma injuries, Justin stated that he was "nowhere near the top of Vann's head" and that they "may want to question Jeffery Harper more."

 

 

Throughout the interview, Justin repeatedly stated that he never saw Vann get hit and that he only helped hold him down to keep him from getting a gun. He said "that was all he knew," but "agreed"  with Seacrist that someone had to have "done something to Vann because someone doesn't just die by being taken to the ground."

 

 

When Justin was asked about a witness claiming to have seen him walking off with a baton, he denied the act.

 

 

At the end of the interview, Justin told Seacrist, "I seen him get tackled and be put in a headlock because I was on top of him, but I don't know how he got those injuries." 

 

 

Walker asked Seacrist if Justin had blood on the shirt he was wearing at the wedding while being interviewed, and Seacrist replied that he never saw any blood.

 

 

The following morning, the state rested its case, with the defense calling two witnesses on the last day of the trial.

 

 

The first witness was a local business owner, Jan Scott, who has known Justin for approximately 28 years. She stated that she was at the wedding inside the tent, as she and her husband were the caterers for the reception. Walker showed her the photo Kate Malphus identified Justin in during her interview with the GBI and asked if the person she identified was Justin Anderson.

 

 

Scott replied that the person was not Justin, identified the individual, and also said she never saw any altercation that night between Vann or anyone else.

The defense's last witness was a doctor and forensic pathologist from Atlanta, Dr. Robert James Downs, who currently resides in Charleston. Downs' opinion was significantly different from Dr. Kraft's, telling the jury that the findings regarding Vann's enlarged heart, BMI, medications in his system, and alcohol level "absolutely" could have played a role in his death.

 

 

Dr. Downs testified that Brown was "set up" to have a heart attack based on many factors of his health at the time, along with his heart rate rising due to walking up the hill, being restrained, and being in an "excited" state. He also mentioned the bundle branch blocking, stating that due to the size of Vann’s heart, which he said was "severely enlarged," he would have conducted a test to determine if Vann had the blockage had he performed the autopsy. He stated that it takes 5 lbs. of pressure for the hyoid bone to break, and that type of injury would have caused his heart rate to rise, and with his contributing factors, Vann's heart "would have stopped immediately, causing a sudden death."

 

 

Rumker cross examined the doctor, questioning him when he received the information from the defense and asked to testify. Dr. Downs stated that he "couldn't recall" or give a range as to when he was contacted.

 

 

"Do you recall how much the check was given to you by them?" Rumker asked.

 

 

"It was about $5,000. I charge $500 an hour," Dr. Downs replied.

 

 

Rumker also asked Dr. Downs if he disagreed that Vann's enlarged heart didn't play a role in his death. Dr. Downs stated that if Dr. Kraft had made that determination, she would be wrong.

 

 

The witness also agreed that Vann died as a result of homicide, which is defined as death caused by others.

 

 

"Yes, but not all deaths are bad, Osama bin Laden's death was caused by others, and it wasn't bad, right? I'm not here to answer if his death was justified; that's for the jury to determine," Dr. Downs stated.

 

 

The witness stated that Vann's bruising "could have been caused two hours before he died, or at the very end."

 

 

"Would you say that his injury to his leg could be from him hitting his leg on a chair?" Walked asked. "Yes, in fact, I hit my leg recently and have a linear mark on my leg similar to that," Dr. Downs replied.

 

 

Dr. Downs also told Walker and the jury that his bruises were consistent with "resisting others."

 

 

Walker closed his questioning by asking Dr. Downs if the instrument used to strike Vann would have had blood on it and if the person who hit Vann would have had blood on his clothing or body. According to Dr. Downs, he believed the instrument would contain blood but couldn't say with certainty that the person who caused the injury would have blood on them.

 

 

Before closing arguments, the jury was excused, and Judge Kelly Brooks asked Justin if he wanted to testify. Justin declined, stating that no one had threatened or influenced his decision.

 

 

The defense rested their case, with closing arguments given by both sides.

 

 

Rumker had the advantage of giving two closings, taking his first as an opportunity to discuss each count and its meaning. He also stated, "I want to make sure that you understand that they had a right to stop Vann Brown from getting a gun; that is not the problem. The problem is that it went from a defensive action to an offensive action by beating him with a baton and staying on top of him until he died. They used excessive force and used that force in a group. I am not saying Jeffery Harper is a good guy; I am saying that the evidence shown by all individuals in the group caused his death."

 

 

Walker told the jury, "Justin stands before you as an innocent man. The state has to prove all the allegations in the indictment, and they haven't done that.

"You heard Justin say he knew Vann Brown; he was a good ol' boy. There has been no testimony that Justin had any adverse feelings toward Vann or had any ill will. In fact, it's been the exact opposite. He said that night, Vann became a nuisance. I hate to talk about that, but I have to because this affects two lives and two families, and it has. Vann decided to go to the event, and he drank so much alcohol that he lost control and did inappropriate things. Kelli Harper asked for help to get him out. She said in her testimony that he was groping girls and even came on to her. I'm sure Jeffery wasn't happy about that, but if you listen to the evidence, you'll see that Justin was trying to help Cam Coffee remove Vann from the home, not hurt him."

 

 

Walker continued, recapping witness testimony of the events of the night, showing the jury Vann's gun, and stating that he "wasn't getting his way and was about to show someone what he could do."

 

 

According to Walker, the men "didn't know if Vann had a gun" and that Brown was taken down as an act of self-defense for themselves and others. He also told the jury Kate, the woman who identified Justin as the person she heard saying was going to kill Vann, was "confused," and he thought she started crying on the stand because she "knew that."

 

 

As it relates to the DNA, Walker stated, "You heard them say for Justin, it was inconclusive. He said I could have even been included as the third person whose DNA was on the baton's handle, which is the same as saying nothing is there."

 

 

Walker also reiterated Dr. Downs' testimony, stating that Vann's enlarged heart and other contributing factors while being restrained could have played a role in him "having a sudden death." He noted that Vann had a "sudden death not caused by Justin or any of the people on the hill" and that he "submitted" that the moment Vann was "no longer a threat" was the "minute he expired."

 

 

The defense's closing continued, mentioning multiple remarks from the witness's testimony, stating that Annsley Coffee "couldn't remember who was holding Brown's legs during her GBI interview" and that Justin had no blood on him after the altercation.

 

 

"Justin was justified in his actions. He was in the mindset that someone had a gun, someone he knew, and then he heard someone he knew well screaming that Vann had a gun. What would you do? Run or help? I submit to you that is what Justin was doing—he was helping. Do not let the state change your mind on that. They were trying to protect Vann Brown and others that night. Vann Brown made a bad decision, putting himself and everyone else in that situation. We ask that you find him not guilty on all counts," Walker closed.

 

 

Rumker then addressed the jury for his second closing. "Vann Brown didn't have to die on January 1, 2020. He died as a result of a posse in cahoots together."

Rucker told the jury that Justin wasn't trying to help Vann at the beginning of the incident by holding Jeffery back from him. Rumker stated that Vann and Cam Coffee were walking up the hill, with Vann attempting to leave, and that Jeffery Harper and Morgan Lewis began making threatening remarks.

 

 

"Vann was leaving. He is going up the hill, and Cam has it under control, but what do you do when someone else becomes the aggressor? There were five large individuals, and remember that Vann Brown is a small guy, standing at 5'5" and weighing 189 lbs. Don't you think he was afraid? Cam says he thought Vann was going for a gun, but we don't know. Vann never got the gun. The only person to get the gun was J.P. Harper at the end when asked. There is a cover-up in this case, and whether they are successful in pulling the wool over your heads, we'll see," Rumker stated.

 

 

Rumker then showed the jury images of Brown's lacerations on his head, along with the linear marks on his body.

 

 

"What we do know is that Vann Brown's head looked like this, and the defendant says he didn't see anyone do this to him. We know his legs looked like this, and he is the one who said he was on his legs. He said he was on them the entire time, and when Vann went to the ground, he wasn't bleeding; then how did this happen? That is a lie."

 

 

Rumker also stated that Kate identified Justin in the courtroom as the man who made a threat against Vann and that, based on two witnesses' testimony, he was the only person to be seen holding the baton. Regarding the DNA on the baton, Rumker told the jury that, while it wasn't matched to Justin's DNA, it also wasn't excluded. "You heard him say 75% of the DNA was Justin's brothers, and 12.5%, other than Vann's, couldn't be matched. They can tell you who had their DNA excluded, and Justin's was not. Another baton was taken from Daniel in the investigation. The circumstantial evidence is that it seems like all the Andersons have batons, and the circumstantial evidence shows that this is what whacked him in the head."

 

 

Rumker also told the jury Dr. Downs was "influenced by Mr. Green," referring to his payment for testifying, and the expert witness "made assumptions" based on six notes in a report. "At one point, he said that Vann 'took down someone with great strength,' referring to Cam. That is just wrong and untrue. It's ridiculous."

 

 

"Kelli Harper said that the defendant walked up to them and said, 'You don't know anything; keep your mouth shut because your husband is involved too.' Involved in what? Involved in what if nothing wrong is done?" Rumker asked the jury.

 

 

Rumker closed his statement with, "Their doctor called Vann Brown Osama bin Laden, in essence, and claimed they weren't responsible. The Romans were big on crucifixion. They would hang people from crosses and trees and leave them there as punishment while they died. So, is the person who drives the nail with the right hand less guilty than the person who drives the nail with the left hand or the person who puts them up there? Are they not all responsible for the person's death? They are. This defendant joined a gang to get retribution, and when the opportunity came to kill Vann Brown, they beat him and prevented him from breathing. They didn't check his hands; they wanted to punch him, and they killed him that night. I am going to ask you to find him guilty on all counts. Two people saw the baton in his hand, one being J.P. Harper, and he was one of the most credible witnesses up here. All you have to do is listen to the evidence to know he is guilty."

 

 

The jury began their deliberations around 2:15 p.m. on Friday, and returned to the courtroom just after 4:00 p.m.

 

 

The clerk of court announced a not guilty verdict on both murder charges and aggravated assault, with the jury finding him guilty of tampering with evidence (a misdemeanor) and making a false statement to law enforcement (a felony.)

Last modified onTuesday, 22 November 2022 18:09
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