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Supporters pack courtroom for convicted killer seeking new trial in Cobb County          

They wore red T-shirts that read “Garrett Strong” and stickers that read “Free Garrett Anderson.” And they filled a Cobb County courtroom Tuesday afternoon to show their support for a man convicted of killing two teenagers in a 2014 crash. 

The case has been unusual from the start. By all accounts, Anderson didn't strike the teens. Instead, they were hit by a locksmith Anderson had hired to access his car.

Now Anderson is seeking a new trial. He didn't get an answer Tuesday. Court dismissed for the day before the motion hearing was finished. Judge Ann Harris said the remainder will be rescheduled and could be held in two to three weeks.

Anderson, currently serving prison time, wore an orange jail jumpsuit while his current lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, argued argued his previous lawyers provided “ineffective assistance” during his 2015 trial.

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.

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Friends and family members wore red T-shirts in support of Garrett Anderson, who is seeking a new trial following his conviction in a crash that killed two teenagers. (Bob Andres/AJC)

“Garrett was nowhere around when this accident occurred and therefore did not cause the accident,” Morgan said. 

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. 

Reina As-Salaam and Julianne Hope Ferrell, both 15, were killed, and Monica Epps suffered a broken leg. Reina, who attended Tri-Cities High School in East Point, died at the scene of the wreck. Juliana, who attended Sprayberry High School, later died from her injuries at WellStar Kennestone Hospital. The three girls were best friends, relatives later testified.

Neither Kanlica nor Anderson stopped after the crash, and Morgan said Anderson was not aware there had been a crash.

Kanlica took a plea deal and was sentenced to 20 years, but later had his sentence reduced to 10 years. He was a key witness for prosecutors in Anderson’s trial. That meant it was one man’s word against the other, Merchant said. 

“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.

Anderson’s defense attorney also argued that he was portrayed as a “speeding, reckless and careless driver” during his trial, while the jury was not allowed to hear about Kanlica’s prior arrest history. 

The State was also allowed to show a video prepared by Cobb police showing an officer traveling at a high rate of speed, according to the motion. But there was no evidence available to substantiate the speed the drivers were traveling, Merchant said. 

Both Petrey and Morgan testified Tuesday afternoon and were cross-examined by prosecutors. Merchant plans to call two additional witnesses to the stand when the hearing resumes. 

The majority of Anderson’s supporters stayed in the courtroom Tuesday afternoon. One woman appeared to pray during a short court recess. 

When the hearing ended, deputies led Anderson out of the court room. It was not known whether he would be held at the Cobb jail or returned to Walker State Prison in Rock Spring.

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