Both Prince William County prosecutors and defense attorneys wrapped up their cases Wednesday in the trial of Jordan Anderson, a Manassas man accused in the 2019 attempted armed robbery of a local Denny’s restaurant that resulted in the shooting death of DoorDash delivery man Yusuf Ozgur, 56.
Anderson’s defense team rested Tuesday after presenting only one day of witness testimony. Anderson, 25, did not take the witness stand. Closing statements were planned for Wed., Sept. 21, and the case was set to go to the jury by the end of the day.
Prince William County prosecutors took five days to present their case. On Monday, Sept. 19, Anderson’s team of public defenders submitted a motion to strike many of the 80 charges initially filed against him for lack of supporting evidence.
Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Kimberly Irving, who is presiding over the case, dismissed about 30 of the indictments, leaving Anderson facing about 50 charges, including first-degree murder and aggravated malicious wounding in connection with Ozgur’s death and the shooting of Bradley Sheetz, 36, of Manassas, who was seriously wounded but survived. If convicted, Anderson faces multiple life sentences.
On Tues., Sept. 20, public defenders William Warriner and Shawn Stout presented their theory of the case: that Anderson suffers from a trauma disorder after years of abuse at the hands of his father and that he shot the victims during the Dec. 26, 2019, attempted robbery out of fear and panic, not premeditation. They presented both lay and expert witness testimony in an effort to support their arguments.
“Our house wasn’t a safe place,” Anderson’s older brother, Jeremy Delvalle, 32, testified when asked about their home life growing up. “The only time I remember my brother smiling was when we were outside of the house.”
Delvalle testified that his younger brother felt “no peace or safety” in the presence of his father and Delvalle’s stepfather, Adolphus “Barry” Anderson, who Delvalle said would regularly beat them both with a belt. “Barry disciplined Anderson with whoopings” three to four times a week, he said.
Their father had “no regard” for where he was swinging the belt, Delvalle said, motioning in all directions on the witness stand. The beatings would “leave welts” on Anderson’s back, legs and arms, he said. Delvalle also demonstrated the way he remembered their dad folding a leather belt in half and snapping it quickly to make a popping sound and threatening: “Do you want to get your ass whooped?”
Anderson’s older sister, Camille Anderson, 34, testified that she lived in Buffalo when Anderson was growing up but visited during several summers. She said their father would strike her brothers repeatedly with a belt for a few minutes and then tell them they “better not cry.” Neither prosecutors nor the defense have yet called Barry Anderson to the witness stand, and it’s not clear whether he has attended any of the trial.
Delvalle testified that when he was younger the family had financial troubles, and their mother worked hard to support the family.
“She was working two jobs just trying to keep us afloat,” he said, but “we watched ourselves.” Delvalle said the family moved around a lot, always trying to find “the cheapest place to live” and lacked stable housing.
“There was a time we lived in a shelter in Woodbridge,” he said, adding that they stayed with family members at times. “I’ve seen what trauma he went through. I’ve witnessed things that went on in our lives that weren’t right,” Delvalle testified.
Sandra Rodriguez testified she met Anderson when they were fourth grade students at Hybla Valley Elementary School in Alexandria. She said Anderson was “not happy as a child.” They lost touch when Anderson moved away in fifth grade, but she said she messaged him on Facebook after they both graduated from high school in July 2015, and the two dated until he went to jail in September 2017, after pleading guilty to felony receiving stolen property charges.
When they communicated through letters and over the phone while Anderson was incarcerated, Rodriguez said Anderson was “down, depressed.” When he got out in 2019, they argued, Rodriguez said. She observed Anderson to be “reserved, quiet and anxious,” and “seemed frustrated” because he was not able to find work.
On cross-examination by Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth, though, Rodriguez testified that Anderson’s mother was supportive and that Anderson got a job at the same Walgreen’s store where his mother worked.
Anderson’s best friend, Ralph Caldwell, testified that he and Anderson met more than 10 years ago when they both attended Prince William County’s New Directions Alternative High School in Manassas. The school has since closed and was replaced by the county’s Independence Nontraditional School, which opened in 2018 in Independent Hill.
Caldwell said they both lived in Woodbridge. “We met at 14. We were just good kids who got in trouble.” He said there were “fights constantly” at New Directions. “It was a bad school -- a lot of gangs, drugs and violence.”
Caldwell testified that he saw Anderson’s father “get physical” with Anderson during high school and would “rough him up.”
They talked on the phone daily when Anderson was in prison, Caldwell said, adding that Anderson was “depressed” and “felt like he wasted a lot of time.”
When Anderson got out of prison, Caldwell said they “did everything together.” He said they would get food, watch movies, play video games and sports.
On Christmas Day 2019, Caldwell said he went and picked up Anderson and brought him back to his house for a Christmas party that was attended by about 10 to 15 people. Ashworth asked if Christmas dinner was at 2 p.m. that day, which would have been about 12 hours before the attempted armed robbery at the Denny’s restaurant and the fatal shooting.
After Anderson’s siblings and friends testified, the defense called Lucy Guarnera, Ph.D., a forensic psychologist and psychology-law researcher at the University of Virginia Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy. Guarnera is a licensed clinical psychologist and said she specializes in “traumatic stress.”
Guarnera was qualified as an expert witness in her field. She testified that she has done more than 300 forensic evaluations, including some for the Prince William Commonwealth Attorney’s office.
Repeated objections from Ashworth to Guarnera’s testimony made this portion of the case one of the most contentious. However, the trial court allowed Guarnera to testify that after evaluating the evidence in the case, she diagnosed Anderson with “other specified trauma and stressor-related disorder,” a condition listed in the professional psychiatry diagnostic manual known as the “DSM-5.”
Trauma from regular beatings by his father and exposure to fighting and violence while in school are strong predictors of Anderson being hyper-vigilant or “always being on alert for new danger,” Guarnera said. She also testified Anderson displayed persistent depressed feelings, was “emotionally numb” and “expressed negative beliefs” about himself – all of which are consistent with a trauma background.
Those who have been exposed to trauma from past dangerous situations are constantly scanning their environment for threats and in their heightened state tend to interpret benign actions as threats, Guarnera testified.
With his background, Guarnera testified that during the robbery, Anderson “panicked” and was “reacting rather than thinking through his actions.”
The defense rested after Guarnera’s testimony, and the prosecution announced that they would not present any rebuttal witnesses.
Ozgur’s family members have attended the jury trial daily. Prince William Sheriff Glen Hill visited the courtroom many times throughout the trial.
The trial was initially expected to last five weeks, but the attorneys presented their arguments and evidence in close to half that time. After closing arguments by both the prosecution and defense, the matter will go to the jury with a verdict to follow.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong first name for Judge Kimberly Irving. the Times regrets the error.
Reach Cher Muzyk at firstname.lastname@example.org