Denny’s manager, Ali Safari, knew something was wrong when he heard someone shouting, “Everyone down!” Everybody down!” as he spoke to a customer at the counter. He turned around and saw a masked man near the entrance, holding a handgun. Shortly after, the man slammed a takeout order out of Safari’s hands with the gun.
“Food went everywhere,” Safari said, “I froze for five seconds, then I realized what was going on.” The restaurant he had run for a decade was robbed in the early morning after Christmas Day 2019. As the masked man walked away, Safari said he quickly made his way to the kitchen and ran out building, “expecting to be shot in the back at all hours.”
Safari said he was shivering and couldn’t call 911 outside in the cold. He rushed to a nearby 7-Eleven, called 911, and reported the armed robbery.
“There is a whole team inside, customers, a team, everyone. … I will return. No one is responsible. I am the manager. I’m worried about my employees,” Safari told the operator.
What Safari didn’t know then was that the chaotic scene inside Denny’s restaurant only escalated after he fled.
Two armed assailants – Jordan Anderson, who had the gun, and Ryan Thomas Walker, who wielded a baton – allegedly terrorized restaurant staff and patrons, about 22 people in total, ordering them to lie on the floor and put back their cell phones and cash as Anderson yelled at employees to open the cash register.
The harrowing incident, which happened around 2:30 a.m. on December 26, 2019, lasted less than three minutes and resulted in the shooting of two men, including DoorDash delivery man Yusuf Ozgur, 56, who died later in the night nearby. hospital.
Safari recounted the events leading up to the fatal shooting on Friday September 9, the first day of testimony in the trial of Anderson, 25, of Manassas. Anderson is charged with first degree murder, attempted capital murder and approximately 80 other crimes related to the death of Ozgur and the murder of Bradley Sheetz, of Manassas, who was seriously injured but survived.
If convicted, Anderson faces multiple life sentences and 208 years of mandatory minimum sentences.
The case had already gone to trial twice before, but jury selection finally took place on Tuesday, September 6, at Prince William Circuit Court in front of Judge Kimberly Irving, who is presiding over the trial. Lawyers screened more than 200 potential jurors over three days before seating an 18-member jury – 12 jurors and six alternates, including five women and 13 men – who will hear the case. The jury appeared diverse in age and race.
Commonwealth solicitor Amy Ashworth presented the prosecution’s opening statement to the jury, outlining the evidence they plan to present during the trial.
“If I don’t get money, somebody gets shot.”
On Christmas Eve 2019, Ozgur left his family at home to work as a DoorDash driver. He arrived at Denny’s, 8201 Sudley Road in Manassas, to pick up a delivery, but had no idea that two minutes before he arrived, Anderson and Walker had entered the restaurant with the intention of stealing money from the checkout, Ashworth said.
The men, both 22 at the time, had their balaclavas on and wore masks (pre-COVID-19). Anderson walked from booth to booth threatening customers with a gun and ordering them to get off, while Walker collected their cell phones and cash, Ashworth said.
After Safari left, Anderson looked for an employee to open the registry. He moved staff members from the back to the front of the restaurant at gunpoint, “growing increasingly angry” that no one could open the register. He said something like, “If I don’t get money, somebody gets shot,” Ashworth said.
Anderson then depressed the slide of the handgun while pointing it at a victim. Everyone in the restaurant was on the floor, panicked and scared, Ashworth said.
Around that time, Ozgur got out of his car and approached the entrance. Walker said to Anderson, “Let’s go,” Ashworth said. As they headed for the front door, Anderson shot Sheetz, who was crouched against a booth, trying to calm his girlfriend and sister down, Ashworth said.
Walker saw Ozgur open the door and hit him on the head with the truncheon. Then Anderson shot Ozgur in the chest. Ozgur fell to the floor and dragged himself into the hallway. Another victim pulled Ozgur into the building and locked the door, Ashworth said.
Shortly after Anderson and Walker fled the scene, police arrived and administered first aid to the men. Ozgur was later pronounced dead at Prince William Hospital. Sheetz underwent surgery at Fairfax Hospital, Ashworth said.
Ashworth said the facts are “relatively undisputed”. Police have video of Denny’s security system, DNA evidence, the firearm that was used in the shooting and the clothing Anderson was wearing during the robbery. Additionally, Anderson admitted to police in an interview “that he was the shooter who shot Sheetz and Ozgur,” Ashworth said.
Joining Ashworth in the prosecution team are Kristina Robinson, Deputy Chief Commonwealth Solicitor, and Christian Malott, Senior Deputy Commonwealth Solicitor.
Defense argues against premeditation
Public defenders William Warriner and Shawn Stout defend Anderson. During their opening statement, Warriner told the jury that he and Stout would not dispute the facts of the case, but would ask “which of the 80 charges is he actually guilty of?” noting that the prosecution must prove each element of each charge.
Warriner argued that the element of premeditation was lacking for the charges related to the Ozgur and Sheetz shootings as well as the robbery charges. Anderson and Walker had planned for the flight to be quick and clean — “take the cash and go,” but “things went wrong right away,” Warriner said.
In Warriner’s story, Anderson is a troubled young man who has endured years of abuse and neglect who entered the restaurant with Walker to steal money that night, but never wanted to shoot. anybody.
Everything happened “at lightning speed” during the flight, Warriner said. Anderson was running everywhere. When he saw Sheetz crouched down and positioned differently than everyone else who was lying on the ground, he freaked out. When he saw Sheetz raise his hand, Anderson thought Sheetz was going to stop them from leaving Denny’s, Warriner said, indicating his shooting was not premeditated but a reaction to the series of events.
Anderson then saw Walker collide with Ozgur at the front door and thought Ozgur “was going to keep them inside the building,” Warriner said, claiming Anderson shot Ozgur out of fear and out of fear. panic, not premeditation.
“Everything was so quick,” Warriner said.
Defense lawyers also said they would present evidence that Anderson suffers from traumatic developmental disorder as a result of years of “extreme interpersonal violence”, including abuse, neglect and deprivation in his family life. The disorder conditions people to be impulsive and not think clearly, especially in the face of traumatic events, Warriner said.
Finally, the defense said it plans to rely heavily on the video of Anderson’s police interrogation because it shows Anderson’s desperation and remorse, and that he never planned. to kill anyone.
Emotion ran high in the courtroom on Friday as members of Ozgur’s family sat a few rows behind the prosecution and were visibly upset. Several times the defense team could be seen comforting Anderson by placing a hand on his shoulder.
Anderson’s trial is scheduled to resume on Monday, September 12 and is expected to last approximately five weeks. Walker is awaiting trial, which is currently scheduled to begin on April 24, 2023.