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Judge sentences Justin Anderson to 18 months confinement in connection with Vann Brown's death

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Featured Justin Anderson Submitted photo Justin Anderson

Last Tuesday morning, Judge Kelly Brooks sentenced Justin Anderson to a year and a half in confinement for his convictions of tampering with evidence and making a false statement to law enforcement in the death of Vann Brown. As previously reported, Anderson was acquitted on charges of malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated assault.



During the hearing, Judge Brooks heard from two of Vann's family members, who told the court how his loss had affected them. Six individuals testified as character witnesses on behalf of Justin Anderson, with his attorney also making a statement to the court. 



The state's prosecutor who tried the case, Assistant District Attorney John Rumker, also spoke to the judge before Justin was sentenced.



The hearing began with victim impact statements from Vann's mother, Renee Brown, and a letter read to the judge by the daughter of Vann's first cousin, Amy Ables. Renee began by showing Judge Brooks a family photo of her last Christmas with Vann, which was just a week before his death. Renee stated, "Your honor, on January 1, 2020, we experienced the most devastating pain a parent can live through. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would be standing in this courtroom today, delivering this message.



"Vann, like us, was not perfect. Ten years ago, Vann spent time in Soperton, Ga., at a Christian recovery program. It was a 6-month program, but Vann was released in 5 months because he was a changed man. In his journal, he wrote, and I quote, 'I can thank God for my life, my family, food, my dogs, people who love me, my house, to be alive, and my health,” she said.



Renee added that Vann was not a violent person. She said he stood up for others and was always smiling. “He always had a smile because he was a happy person. He loved us and his family. He always took the time to tell us that he loved us. He was our heart,” she said. Renee added that she did not believe that Vann was attempting to grab a gun on the night of his death. Instead, she said, she believed he was attempting to go home. “He never said that he was getting a gun but he did say he was going home. I am so thankful that God let us borrow him for 39 years,” she added.



Renee also addressed Justin Anderson directly. “If this had been Vann in your place, Justin, I know in my heart he would have come to your defense, someone he considered a friend. You had the option to choose between right and wrong, but you, Justin Anderson, chose to participate in the brutal killing of my only child, Vann Brown. Justin, I truly believe that you are guilty, or you would have taken the stand to defend yourself, but you chose to let your attorney, Rob Walker, tell lies for you. What about the truth that you were going to share with the DA, John Rumker, if we would give you probation for your crime that you committed? It is all about lies. The day I was told you went to a bird shoot the afternoon you had just helped kill Vann really hurt my heart. I truly could not believe that you had no more care for my child or another person's life; no remorse whatsoever,” she said.



Renee stated that the events of January 1, 2020, took more than one life. She said that Vann’s loss affected her mother to the point that she grieved herself to death in the aftermath. "Justin, not only did you take our only son away from us, but the results of your actions stole the life of my mama. She grieved herself to death only two and a half months after Vann died. She was full of life, healthy, and still lived alone at 90 years old. You stole her will to live when you helped murder my son. My family is forever broken because of the loss of Vann,” she said. [Editor's note: The jury found Anderson innoncent of murder and aggravated assault in connection with Brown's death. Anderson's attorney, Rob Walker, addressed this in his remarks later in the hearing.]



As Renee closed her comments, she asked Judge Brooks to render an appropriate sentence. “Your Honor, I trust that you hand down the sentence that Justin Anderson deserves for the charges he has been charged with. Vann was not perfect, but he did not deserve to be beaten to death,” she stated in conclusion.



Raven Ables, Vann's second cousin, took the stand and read a letter to the judge from her mother, Amy Ables. According to Raven, her mother wanted to make a statement but was too emotional to do so. Amy's letter spoke of memories she shared with Vann when she was younger and his love for his family. She also told the judge that she and her husband were at the wedding reception "with Vann all night."



"Vann was having the best time. We danced and had a really good time. He was not out of the way at all when we were there. As a matter of fact, he talked with Jerry Harper and asked him at his truck if he could help him do anything. Vann lit the sparkers for everyone at the wedding," Raven stated.



Amy said that when they were leaving the wedding, she asked Vann if he was okay, and that he assured her that he was good and told them he loved them. About 40 minutes later, she received a phone call telling her Vann had been shot. She told the judge she was the one who called Vann's parents, telling them she had been told Vann had been shot and they needed to get back to the reception.



"When we got back to the wedding reception, there was chaos. People were still drinking, showing no remorse, and Vann was lying dead on the ground. No one was crying. We kept asking, 'What happened?' No response. I went up to Jason and Kathy Anderson, and they didn't even answer; they just hung their heads down. Went up to Justin and Anslie Anderson, and the same thing from them. People kept saying he had a heart attack or had been shot or beaten to death," the letter continued.



According to Amy, they have "seen no remorse" from "their" family, whom she said they attended church with and knew their "whole lives." "No tears, no sadness. My family will never understand why this had to happen and the real reason for how it happened. This did not have to happen," she stated.



Amy's letter closed by stating, "Vann is in heaven with his bamaw, and Uncle Warren's daddy, his papa. Marks on his body where he was beaten are now healed in heaven. We miss him and don't understand, but we are leaving it with Jesus now. We love and miss him so much, and we are praying for justice for our Vann."



Several individuals took the stand as character witnesses for Justin prior to the judge announcing his sentence for the convictions.

The first individual was Wylene Coffee, a family friend of Justin and the Anderson family. She told the judge Justin was "special to her family" and had spoken to her sometime after Vann's passing. 



Wylene stated that Justin had asked her if he could attend her church and had since been an active member and an integral part of their congregation. According to Wylene, since his arrest, Justin had given his life to Christ. Walker asked Wylene if she was requesting a sentence for Justin, with her looking at Judge Kelly Brooks and asking him to give him probation.



Rumker questioned Wylene and asked her if Justin had "stood up in church and confessed what he had done that night." Wylene responded, "Not publicly."

The next character witness was one of the two individuals to take the stand during the trial for the defense, Jan Scott. Scott told Judge Brooks that Justin had "extraordinary character" and recalled him coming to help her on multiple occasions with the family's cattle and farm. Jan testified that on December 31, 2021, a tornado ripped through her farm, wreaking havoc on their property.



"He showed up and didn't leave until it was all done. He didn't call; he just showed up to help. That's the type of person he is," Jan stated.

Jan also told the judge Justin would "rehabilitate himself" and asked for probation so he could still "be with his family."



Donnie Smith also testified, mentioning Justin's work ethic and character, stating he was an "honest man who would give the shirt off his back to anyone." He noted that Justin had made a mistake, and he "believed in helping those who make mistakes."



Smith testified that he has "seen a change in Justin since this happened." He also asked the judge to "grant mercy" to him while he was considering an appropriate sentence.



Rumker cross examined Smith, asking him what he thought about the fact that 12 people judged Anderson a liar. Smith stated that everyone makes mistakes. Rumker continued questioning Smith, who ultimately stated that “I believe we all should tell the truth.”



Justin's neighbor, Doyle Paulk, told the judge that he was a former deputy who lived beside Justin. He testified that Justin always helped when he needed something, and he "believed probation would be sufficient."



Another man, Paul Carver, said he does business with Justin and his family and has known them for several years. He stated that when there was tornado damage a few years ago on his property, Justin was the first one there. He also requested probation for Justin.



Banner Waldron III, a "good friend" of Justin's whom he speaks to almost daily, was the last to testify.



According to Waldron, Justin was a "shy introvert," and he had also noticed a change in him since Vann's death. Waldron recalled when Justin was asked if he wanted to drink a beer since his arrest in 2020 and declined. "He said the judge told him not to drink, and he wasn't going to," Waldron commented. He also asked the judge to sentence Justin to probation.



Walker then gave a final statement to the judge before he went to his chambers to consider the statements. The defense attorney told the judge that Justin was a 38-year-old father who was married and not someone who "says a lot."



Walker mentioned Renee's comments accusing Justin of being a part of Vann's death, stating he had been acquitted of murder and aggravated assault and had been proven innocent of those charges.



Walker also mentioned the six character witness testimonies, telling the judge that all the individuals praised Justin for his good character and said he was "always the first one to help out in a time of need." Walker also commented that he understood people had to be sentenced for their crimes but that the judicial system was also about rehabilitation. He also mentioned Renee's comments about "Justin not taking the stand," saying he understood how difficult the case was for her but that Justin was not found guilty of harming Vann.



"I am asking for leniency. Give him an opportunity to be with his wife and child. Vann Brown's life is not lost in this; Justin Anderson thinks about that every day. If you allow him to serve his sentence on probation, he will make good on it," Walker told the jury.



Rumker's closing focused on his belief that Justin and the Anderson family were attempting to destroy the judicial system by the lack of respect they had for the law. Rumker stated, "The witnesses who testified today on his behalf, and his attorney, all stated that Justin Anderson is a good person; Justin Anderson doesn't need to go to prison and that Justin Anderson is 'our friend.' Well, what Justin's attorney and his friends don't see is the big picture in this. The big picture is what he did and what he was found guilty of doing, and what he did creates rot in the judicial system. That is what he did, and he needs to go to prison for it."



Rumker added that these kinds of situations cause people to lose faith in the system and the result is that “people in the community don't think you get a fair shake in court.”



Rumker also stated that probation would not be justice. ”Make him pay for it and send him to prison. Judge, make him pay for it.,” said Rumker.

Judge Kelly Brooks went to his chambers and returned about forty minutes later. "I can't fix what has happened here; nothing can. This entire situation has affected this community and many families. I wish I could turn back time, but I can't. This sentence is in light of the jury's verdict. I could talk to you for hours about this, but it would change nothing," Judge Brooks stated.



Judge Brooks announced that Justin would serve 12 months in the county jail on the count of tampering with evidence. On the count of making a false statement to law enforcement, Justin was sentenced to 5 years, serving the first six months in a probation detention center and the remainder on probation. He was not sentenced under the First Offenders Act and received time credit for his prior stay in the Coffee County Jail.



When Justin was arrested in 2020, he spent under two months in jail before receiving a $250,000 bond on October 12, 2020. With the time credited to his sentence, Justin will remain behind bars for over a year and four months.



"This sentence is based on the convictions in a case involving the death of another human," Judge Brooks concluded. "Justified or not, there was a death of another human in this case."

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