For a bag of marijuana, one 19-year-old is dead and another will spend at least the second half of his life in prison.
“I miss him. I miss him. I miss him coming in with that big, bright smile,” said Debbie O’Brien as she wept for her son, Justin M. Carter, who was shot and killed last year, the day before Thanksgiving.
“It was an accident,” said Allen J. Anderson also in tears, speaking from the stand after a jury in Fairfax County Circuit Court found him guilty of first degree murder. “I never meant for any of this to happen.”
Anderson, who police said was from Lorton but had been living in Reston, took the stand to explain to the jury that the gun fired accidentally during a botched drug deal turned robbery.
“Youngsters at this age have no business going into the community with a loaded pistol — nothing good can come of it,” said Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney Ian M. Rodway. Virginia law considers a murder during the commission of a robbery murder in the first degree.
Rodway argued Anderson knowingly attempted to rob Carter before killing him.
After deliberating seven hours, the jury agreed, finding Anderson guilty and recommending he serve the minimum sentence of 20 years in prison.
ANDERSON, THEN a senior at South Lakes High School, was arrested Nov. 23, 2005, just hours after Carter was found dead near a bench on a wooded pathway behind Winterthur Apartments.
According to police testimony during the trial, Anderson, along with three juvenile accomplices, set up a meeting with Carter behind the apartment complex to buy marijuana. But according to police, the intent was to rob Carter.
The day before, Nov. 22, 2005, the four friends — Carter, Marquis Brown, 17, Tony Fitts, 17, and Jose Green — plotted to rob Carter, but later reconsidered.
The next day, though, Brown called Carter to buy the marijuana, hoping to lure him into the woods for the robbery, according to Fairfax County Det. I. M. “June” Boyle. Brown later testified before the jury that the foursome never intended to rob Carter, just buy marijuana.
Anderson, who sat stoic with his head down much of the trial, maintained that he didn’t know it was going to be a robbery. “I didn’t think [Fitts] still wanted to rob [Carter] because he had money in his hand,” said Anderson in a taped interview with Det. Boyle the day after the shooting, Nov. 24, 2005.
But on the day of the incident, the four friends showed up on the pathway with a loaded Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol.
Anderson admitted that he bought the gun a month earlier for $300 in Queens, New York, where he’s from originally, and then sold it to Fitts for $200 sometime in November 2005.
WHEN THE DRUG deal started around 1:30 p.m., Tony Fitts gave Carter $60 for the drugs.
“[Carter] said, ‘No, I think you’re short,” said Anderson in the taped interview, which the jury heard as evidence. “[Tony Fitts] acted like he was going to get more. Then, he cocked the gun and passed it to me and then started patting [Carter] down.”
Anderson testified that he held the gun pointed downward to his side near his right thigh, but Carter saw the gun and realized he was being robbed.
“He pushed Tony [Fitts] out of the way and he came for me,” said Anderson in the taped interview.
On the stand during the trial, Anderson testified that he and Carter struggled for the gun. “He pushed Tony [Fitts] out of the way and started wrestling with me for the gun,” said Anderson. “I’m trying to move away from him and that’s when we got close and that’s when the gun went off … I know for a fact, I didn’t pull the trigger.”
But Rodway focused the jury’s attention over and over again to a 10-second stretch in the taped interview.
“What were you going to do? Were you going to kill him or just rob him? What was the idea?” said Det. Boyle in the taped interview.
“It was just to rob him,” said Anderson.
During the trial, Anderson testified that he was referring to Fitts’ intention, not his own. The jury wasn’t convinced.
After the shooting, the four friends ran to another friend’s house, where the gun was hidden and Fitts and Anderson both checked their Web sites on MySpace.com.
TESTIMONY AMONG Brown, Fitts and Anderson varied greatly. Brown testified Anderson shot Carter accidentally. Fitts told Det. Boyle that Anderson shot Carter on purpose.
Brown of Reston, who watched the two wrestle for the gun, said he wished he could go back in time to stop the shooting.
“It didn’t feel real, like a movie,” said Brown in an interview after the trial. “If I could rewind everything, I would probably never have called Justin.”
Before issuing a recommended sentence, the jury heard emotional testimony from the two teenager’s mothers.
“I don’t know how to live without him,” said O’Brien, barely audible through sobs. “The loss of Justin has had a deep impact on the community of Reston.”
“I feel the same pain, this is my oldest child,” said Anderson’s mother, Danielle Porter, also crying.
Rodway told the jury that Carter was still a victim despite being depicted as a drug dealer. “Justin Carter had his warts, but he did not deserve to die,” said Rodway.
“Everybody’s looking at it like it was a big drug deal, but nobody was there. The truth of the matter was he was robbed and killed and robbed of his life,” said O’Brien in an interview after the trial.
O’Brien said she thought the jury should have recommended that Anderson receive life in prison. She said her son, who dreamed of traveling to Africa one day, will never see his dreams come true. “I will never be able to see Justin again. At least his mother will see her son again.”
Anderson’s sentencing is scheduled for October.