New details in Orange murder

Aaron and Summer Conn

After a three-day trial ending with approximately five hours of deliberation, on Friday, May 23, jurors found Curtis Allen Garrison guilty of capital murder in the Nov. 23, 2012 slayings of Aaron and Summer Conn of Vidor. The victims’ family and friends say they have finally achieved closure in the deaths of their loved ones while Garrison serves life in prison.

In The Examiner last week, previously unrevealed details of the fatal shootings were exposed during three days of testimony and exhibits in Judge Dennis Powell’s 163rd District Court in Orange County. Thursday, May 22, the prosecution and defense gave closing arguments in front of jurors deciding the fate of 28-year-old Garrison, accused of the capital murder of Aaron and Summer Conn. After which, Garrison and the families of the victims and the accused anxiously awaited those 12 jurors’ final determination.

Both the prosecution and the defense received 45 minutes for closing arguments.

In the state’s closing statement, Assistant District Attorney Krispen Walker told jurors that rather than spending Black Friday 2012 shopping for Christmas gifts as so many others were, the families of Aaron and Summer Conn instead received gruesome news. Rather than a day spent wrapping presents to place under the Christmas tree, instead they were presented with what Walker described to jurors as the bodies of Aaron and Summer Conn “packaged” within body bags. As she addressed jurors, Walker flashed across a projection screen an image of the black bag within which lay the deceased Summer Conn. Walker told jurors the defense would speak next and that they were going to be shown photos of syringes reportedly discovered inside Summer Conn’s purse. She said the young mother was indeed a drug user and then asked, “Did she deserve to die?” 

She warned jurors that defense attorneys would use the information “to make Summer and Aaron look bad,” but that their purported addictions were not cause for murder. She asked for jurors to convict Garrison of capital murder and attacked his self-defense claim, reminding jurors the couple had no firearm when he fatally shot them. She pointed to evidence and testimony that Garrison possessed four loaded firearms as he lay in wait for the couple, who he knew were en route to his home. She also recollected for the jury Garrison’s testimony that he never, ever used drugs, refuted by evidence presented by the ADA revealing a past marijuana possession conviction for which his probation was revoked after testing positive for drugs in multiple urinalyses. 

“He lied to you,” Walker asserted. 

Walker demonstrated the distance between the victims and Garrison at the time he shot them “in self-defense” by standing at the back wall of the courtroom and measuring from the witness stand as Garrison advised during his testimony, a distance she said proved Garrison shot and killed the Conns in a fit of anger. She stepped away from the podium after about 15 minutes, saving her remaining 30 minutes for her retort subsequent to defense counsel’s closing argument. 

Jim Sharon Bearden Jr. addressed jurors, telling them the prosecution would make his client, Garrison, out to be a “cold-blooded monster.” He said Garrison was, in fact, a charitable, hard-working individual who provided a “homeless” Aaron Conn shelter in his time of need and worried about protection due to past burglaries, although the majority were unreported to police, and an incident in which an armed intruder threatened him with a gun, also unreported. Bearden then told jurors Garrison’s understandable fear for his safety was heightened when Summer Conn purportedly told him she would have members of the Aryan Brotherhood from “the Compound” in Vidor kill him. He asked jurors at what point in the timeline described by Garrison in testimony and by Bearden in his closing statement should Garrison have fired upon the couple if not at the time he did. Bearden questioned, “Should he have waited until they fired at him?” Before Walker stepped back to the podium for her final words to jurors, she assembled the PW Arms 7.62 caliber rifle in front of the court, attaching the bayonet to display the weapon as it was on the day of the Conns’ deaths. She then described Garrison’s testimony as “cold” and questioned the tale Garrison told about the Compound, suggesting it was fabricated.

“Why would he lead the Compound back to his parents’ house?” Walker queried. “Why would he leave every single one of his weapons on the table? ... Because it didn’t happen. He snapped. He was mad at Summer and Aaron, so he killed them.”

She asked jurors to think back to the testimony given by Nathan Garrison, the shooter’s brother. She reminded them Nathan testified that his brother Curtis told him he killed the Conns for “talking sh*t” when telling him the story on the day of the shootings, never mentioning to Nathan that he was afraid and, according to Nathan, saying he believed the victims to have been unarmed when he killed them.

Walker concluded her final argument at approximately 11:15 a.m., and jurors went into deliberations at that time. As of 5 p.m. on May 22, no decision had been reached and jurors were told to return the following morning at 8:30 a.m. to further deliberate.

Summer Conn’s mother Monica Barron said waiting, especially after having seen the photos of her deceased daughter and son-in-law, was going to be difficult.

“The waiting is the worst part,” said Barron.

After resuming deliberations at 9 a.m. Friday, May 23, 2014, what would have been Aaron Conn’s 36th birthday, the jury came back with a verdict of guilty on the charges of capital murder in the deaths of Aaron and Summer Conn. Curtis Garrison was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Aaron Conn’s brother, Eric Conn, said he is “very thankful” Curtis Garrison was found guilty of capital murder for killing his sibling and sister-in-law. He said although he was initially disappointed the district attorney’s office chose to waive the death penalty in the case, he decided, in the end, that it was for the best.

“I thought I wanted him to have death, but then I’d be guilty as him,” Conn said.

Aaron Conn’s mother, Cyndi Johnson, said she is satisfied with the verdict and is relieved the trial has concluded.

“(Garrison) got what he deserved,” Johnson said. “I’m glad justice was done. It’s still hard to believe my son is gone. I think he was in heaven looking down on us seeing justice was done.”