Short Take: More Time For The Non-Killer?

Garrett Anderson may have been careless, a deadbeat, a Walmart shopper. But did he deserve to be convicted of vehicular homicide and get 15 years, five more than the actual killer?

Anderson of Kennesaw called a locksmith after locking his keys in his car at a Cobb Walmart on May 25, 2014, according to investigators. Anderson told the locksmith, Tansu Kanlica, to follow him to an ATM so he could get the $175 he owed. But then Anderson appeared to try to get away without paying, according to prosecutors, and passed his bank and several ATMs.

During Anderson’s trial, Kanlica testified that Anderson “brake checked” him, and that he swerved left to avoid hitting him, then over-corrected to the right. That’s when Kanlica jumped a curb and struck three teenagers, killing two.

Neither driver stopped. Kanlica had no excuse. Anderson’s excuse was that he didn’t know it happened. After all, he didn’t kill anyone.

“The bottom line was: Nobody could say that Garrett Anderson was even present at the time of the accident that killed these two little girls and injured the third,” Petrey said.

But a jury convicted Anderson of two counts of vehicular homicide, one count of serious injury and one count of aggressive driving. Anderson was 25 when he was sentenced in 2015 to serve 15 years.

With a new attorney, Anderson is trying to have his conviction reversed due to ineffective assistance of counsel. The basis for this contention is unclear, other than the fact that he lost, and the article offers no clue what Anderson’s lawyers did, or failed to do, that gives rise to the hearing. Unlike so many such cases, he had lawyers who had the experience to defend their client.

Anderson’s previous legal team? Two lawyers with a combined 70 years of experience, including former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan and former DeKalb assistant DA John Petrey. Morgan testified Tuesday that his defense, while representing Anderson, was that he was not at fault for the fatal wreck.

There was no claim that it was Anderson whose vehicle struck the teens. The fault arises from the testimony of Kanlica, the locksmith who was certain that he was about to get beat for $175 and wasn’t about to let Anderson get away, who testified that Anderson “brake checked” him. Presumably, this means Kanlica was tailgating Anderson, who hit his brakes to get Kanlica to back off, causing Kanlica to turn away. The chain of events ended with Kanlica running down the teens.

The question isn’t whether Kanlica’s claim smacks of self-serving malarkey, particularly since it served to get his sentence reduced to ten years in exchange for his testifying against Anderson. That was a question for the jury, whether they believed Kanlica. And apparently, they did.

But even so, could Anderson’s “brake check” be construed to create a reasonably foreseeable chain reaction that would result in death? Was Kanlica’s tailgating not the more proximate cause of his sudden need to turn to avoid crashing into Anderson’s vehicle?

On the other hand, Anderson is no angel here, having enjoyed the benefit of Kanlica’s lock-smithing skills and then, Walmart shopper that  he is, trying to beat the guy who just helped him out of his fee. As a side note, going to trial as an unsympathetic defendant can give rise to credibility issues.

And yet, with all the ugliness that happened here, the upshot is that Kanlica, who actually ran down and killed the teens, ends up with five fewer years than Anderson, who ran over no one. Even if sufficient fault can be attributed to Anderson to be convicted of the homicides, is his culpability greater than that of Kanlica?

The gravamen of the hearing isn’t philosophical, but whether Anderson was denied effective assistance of counsel, the one piece of information wholly omitted from the article. There must be enough to the claim to give rise to a hearing, not to mention a courtroom filled with people wearing “Anderson Strong” t-shirts, but as weird as this case may be, what the basis for the claim may be is a mystery. Losing a close case isn’t lawyer error. It’s a trial.

21 thoughts on “Short Take: More Time For The Non-Killer?

  1. davep

    Did Anderson’s trial have any knowledge of Kanlica’s sentencing?

    Brake-checking is reckless and dangerous. In this case, it appears that an act of brake-checking led to 3 deaths (even if it wasn’t the direct cause).

    Anderson might not deserve more time than Kanlica but he might not deserve less either.

    I suspect that this sort of uneven sentencing is fairly common.

    1. LocoYokel

      Tailgating is reckless and dangerous, not to mention illegal (at least in Texas). Is brake-checking illegal? If not then why was he charged and convicted of manslaughter?

      1. SHG Post author

        Interesting how you and dave flip on who fault caused what, and blame shifts back and forth. If Kanlico didn’t tailgate, which is illegal, Anderson wouldn’t have brake checked, which could be reckless even if the conduct wasn’t per se illegal. Chicken and egg? Which is worse? Which is more proximate to the cause of death? Reasonable minds differ.

        1. LocoYokel

          I’m not saying Anderson wasn’t being a dipshit, and running out on the locksmith bill was certainly illegal and is what led to the whole incident. He isn’t blame free but, as a non-lawyer, I don’t know that the brake-checking itself rises to an actionable event. (If it does there are a whole lot of people on the roads in Austin who are looking at jail time.) This was a tragic accident and really the only thing I fault Kanlica for is not stopping, which is also a separate crime in Texas. Get Anderson for theft of services, and maybe tack on a multiplier (I don’t know how that would work) for the chain of events his actions caused but manslaughter is a stretch.

          I am not a lawyer and am probably full of shit here but it seems to me that the prosecutor stretched things with this charge.

          1. SHG Post author

            Stop Gertruding about not being a lawyer. This was put to the jury, non-lawyers, to decide if he was guilty of vehicular homicide. Dipshittery isn’t the question. It’s homicide. Hom. I. Cide.

            1. LocoYokel

              As a layperson who might be a juror in a case like this, given the fact pattern presented here, I could not have voted for conviction of homicide in this case for Anderson. Had they charged with theft of services and asked for a multiplier for the chain of events that followed I might have been able to go for that, I would certainly have voted yes for theft of services. Kanlica on the other hand was guilty of manslaughter (unintentional homicide is how I would have defined it in the jury room) as he is the one who actually ran into the pedestrians. The bigger issue for him, in my eyes, would have been leaving the scene, and would be the only thing hindering me from voting for the minimum sentence should I be in a jurisdiction where the jury sentences as well as convicts.

              Happy? Of course, if I ever get to voir dire and admit I read legal blogs, especially a criminal defense lawyer’s blog, I will never get on a jury.

        2. davep

          “Which is more proximate to the cause of death? ”

          So, if someone rams a car from the rear and the more “proximate” car kills a pedestrian ahead of it, is the driver of “more proximate” car the at-fault cause of death?

          I don’t think the brake-checker is blameless.

          The fact that one of the parties got less seems to be irrelevant. Such differences in sentencing appear to be common. Should this even have been brought up as a topic if the sentences were reversed?

          1. SHG Post author

            The sentence is the most simplistic way of assessing culpability, and so it becomes the proxy for outrage. But you’re right, the sentence is only of legal consequence to the extent it reflects the culpability as reflected by the harm. Proximate, however, has a different meaning than physical proximity. It means what was sufficiently causal to the harm to be culpable. For example, the flight to avoid paying the locksmith’s fee is part of the chain of events that resulted in death, but it’s too attenuated to turn a deadbeat into a killer. At what point does foreseeability of the consequences because too remote and abstract? What about the intervening actions of others?

            As I keep saying, there’s a lot going on here, and different people see it quite differently. But is Anderson’s conviction so outrageous as to justify the “free Anderson” crowd?

            1. davep

              “At what point does foreseeability of the consequences because too remote and abstract? What about the intervening actions of others?”

              I think it’s unreasonable to expect that people in will be killed (collaterally) because someone skipped paying a bill.

              Car chases (and brake checking) don’t seem that “remote and abstract” to me at all.

              The only justification that the “free Anderson” crowd needs (for there actions) is to do whatever they can for their “client”.

      2. davep

        Was he tailgating?

        Break-checking is some sort reckless/careless driving. So, yes, it’s illegal.

  2. Christopher Dove

    I like how shopping at Walmart counts as a -1 Credibility. I suppose its context dependent. Stiffing the locksmith? Does not exactly endear one to the jury. I’m sure at least one juror wondered if his lawyers were paid up front. Which begs the question: how many times had the locksmith played Ricky Bobby in the past in order to get his fee? Did he call the police before playing Spyhunter for realz? (And let’s not forget: a locksmith in prison with ten years on his hands . . . . Oh the mind wanders.)

      1. W. Justin Adams

        “The Walmart part was just a joke. And it doesn’t “beg” the question, but raises it.”

        If the Internet gave out meritorious service medals, I’d nominate you on this basis alone. Not to say that there aren’t other grounds.

  3. Nemo

    While there is, perhaps, a legal-language explanation that can make this make sense, but this is the kind of outcome that makes the groundlings I know, and almost all of the ones I have ever met (plus or minus) wonder just what the fuck is wrong with the courts. Yeah, I followed the outline of how it happened, but it still doesn’t make sense.

    1. SHG Post author

      How would you have unpacked this fact pattern? Who is at fault and why? Who isn’t and why? That’s the bottom line, but the why is what matters.

    2. Patrick Maupin

      It may make more sense to view the disparity as caused by discounts than by adders. The discount (off of the max possible sentence) of not being the one actually hitting the pedestrians happened to not be as big as the discount for being “justifiably” enraged. Only one participant managed to invoke the sympathetic reaction of “There but for the grace of God go I.”

  4. Elpey P.

    This shows how the language journalists use can shape our understanding of events. Other new sources describe this as a high speed car chase scenario, not one where a driver was following another at a leisurely speed and was brake checked.

    This still leaves the question of whether Anderson deserves a harsher sentence, but it’s not like they were drag racing each other down the street for fun. They were in a car chase because one of them was a thief trying to get away from the guy he just robbed.

    1. SHG Post author

      Had the locksmith taken Anderson’s plate and called it into the cops, could the “high speed chase” have been avoided and no one harmed? Chases are inherently dangerous, especially when done by people untrained in high speed driving. Does that change the equation?

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