EDNA – After leaving the military, Jarrett Parker devoted his life to helping returning veterans find their way home.
“I didn’t have anybody, but I had him,” testified Ryan Normandin, an Army Rangers staff sergeant and combat veteran who spent four deployments in Afghanistan.
Tuesday, Normandin offered poignant testimony, telling jurors that Parker had helped him through his depression, divorce, PTSD and difficulties in returning to civilian life.
“He was the only one I could call late at night,” said Normandin, his voice cracking with grief.
That testimony came on the first day of the sentencing phase and 12th day of trial for 37-year-old Edna mother Amber Sorensen.
After almost four hours of deliberation, jurors returned a guilty verdict Tuesday morning for Sorensen, convicting her of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily injury to a family member.
The first-degree felony carries a sentence of between five and 99 years or life in prison with up to a $10,000 fine.
Sorensen also was indicted for murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Unlike murder, jurors could sentence her to probation rather than prison time for the first-degree aggravated assault conviction.
To find Sorensen guilty of first-degree aggravated assault, jurors had to find that she may have killed Parker recklessly rather than knowingly or intentionally.
In one statement, Sorensen said she had aimed at a bathroom window behind Parker and did not mean to shoot him. She also told investigators she had acted in self-defense.
In trial, prosecutors disputed that claim.
But they added if Sorensen was aiming at the window, Parker’s positioning directly in front of it would have meant any shot at him was a reckless endangerment of his life.
Prosecutors compared such a shot to aiming for an apple on a person’s head.
Although jurors refuted Sorensen’s claims that she killed Parker in self-defense, prosecutors called additional witnesses during sentencing who described the man as nonviolent and compassionate.
Like other veterans who testified Tuesday, Normandin told jurors post-traumatic stress disorder does not necessarily cause violent behavior.
But it can result in severe mental anguish with various symptoms, including hyper-vigilance, nightmares and depression.
Normandin met Parker after leaving the Army, and the two became best friends within the span of two years, he said.
To cope with their PTSD and other stressors, the men exercised together, rode motorcycles and attended veterans’ events.
Those activities as well as Parker’s friendship were instrumental in finding a way back to civilian life, Normandin said.
“I didn’t have a lot when I got out. I didn’t have anyone who understood,” he said.
But Normandin was hardly the only veteran to find support in Parker.
After leaving a 12-year career that ended in the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, Parker returned to Edna and devoted himself to supporting veterans.
Normandin estimated Parker had helped hundreds, if not thousands, through his work with veteran nonprofits.
Jared Bonvell, Parker’s former mentor and supervisor in the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, said serving others came naturally to Parker.
“People who needed compassion were drawn to him,” he said.
Bonvell, a master sergeant, took the stand with his service dog, Recon, at his side. The dog, he said, is an important part of his treatment plan for PTSD.
“I believe he would have put (everyone else) ... before himself,” Bonvell said. “It was always about making sure they were taken care of.”
Sorensen’s attorney, Stephen Cihal, who had few questions for prosecutors’ witnesses Tuesday, questioned Bonvell about a military reprimand Parker had received during training.
Although Bonvell admitted his knowledge of the matter was limited, he said Parker had been disciplined for having an extramarital affair while in training.
In the course of an investigation, Bonvell also had questioned Parker’s ex-wife. During that questioning, he looked for bruises on the ex-wife but found none.
Minutes into interviewing her, Bonvell determined the woman’s accusations against Parker were wholly not credible, he said.
“There was no suspicion at all,” Bonvell said.
‘Husks’ and ‘shells’
In the wake of Parker’s death, grief has torn the man’s family apart, testified his stepsister, Christina Fox.
“I lost my mom, my dad, my brother,” she said. “An atomic bomb went off ... and just shattered us. There’s no family left.”
Although Fox and Parker do not share a father, they grew up together thinking of one another as blood siblings.
“We never had the label of ‘step,’” she said. “It was always ‘brother.’”
To Parker’s younger stepbrother, Alex Taylor, who testified before Fox, the man was not only his brother but also his hero and idol.
“He was somebody I wanted to be,” he said.
Parker’s death, he said, has crippled his mother and father to the point that they withdrew for a while from their family and daily life.
“It feels like for the last two and a half years, my life has been on pause,” he said.
Fox agreed, saying her large family once gathered constantly for barbecues, parties and other events.
In fact, her family even made up their own holidays as excuses to meet, Fox said.
After Parker died, she has limited those visits to about once a year, she said.
Fox, also an Air Force veteran, began struggling with depression after Parker’s death, she said.
That depression caused her to quit her job as a wedding cake designer because she could no longer find joy in the job.
For her and her children, facing her grieving family is simply too painful a reminder of the brother she lost.
Parker’s death, she said has transformed her family into pale reminders of their former selves.
“We’re husks,” she said. “They’re shells.”
Jurors have returned a unanimous verdict finding Amber Sorensen guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon causing serious bodily injury to a family member. The first-degree felony carries a sentence of between five and 99 years or life in prison.— Jon Wilcox (@thrilcox) October 8, 2019
Members of the public are debating the facts of the Amber Sorensen case as they await a verdict from jurors. Throughout the investigation and trial, supporters on both sides have commented on social media with #justiceforjarrett and #amberstrong— Jon Wilcox (@thrilcox) October 8, 2019
About 50 people, including loved ones of Jarrett Parker and Amber Sorensen, are awaiting a verdict from jurors, who have deliberated for more than three hours now. pic.twitter.com/uf2VC1uWNc— Jon Wilcox (@thrilcox) October 8, 2019