Closing arguments in Drennen trial to be given Friday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Closing arguments in the Joshua Drennen trial will be made Friday after the prosecution and defense rested their cases.

Jury members on Thursday heard additional testimony related to 28-year-old Drennen, who is accused of leading a crime spree on Charleston’s West Side in February 2020. Drennen’s alleged actions include killing Barbara Steele, 77, at her home, attacking a woman during a carjacking and repeatedly striking Charleston police officer Austin Casto.

Vanessa White was one person who provided testimony on Thursday; Drennen and White lived in Pinch after he moved from Kentucky to West Virginia.

“Best friends since we were teenagers,” White, 29, said.

White said she noticed a change in Drennen in 2019; she noted Drennen became more religious and had a history of “going completely overboard with it.”

“He would overtalk our preacher, and nobody understood what was going on,” she said about church services.

White also noted church members would bring guns to services because of how Drennen would act.

Crystal Taylor, Drennen’s mother, said Drennen’s behavior changed in August 2019 following a friend’s death by suicide.

“When he come to the house to tell me about it, he was tearful and depressed and made the statement that he couldn’t much blame the guy for what he did,” Taylor said. “I asked him if he was feeling the same way, and he said, ‘Maybe, Mom.'”

Taylor urged Drennen to seek professional help but noted Drennen’s work schedule kept him busy.

“He was very tired and, in my opinion, maybe not thinking straight,” she added.

White and Drennen’s brother had a mental hygiene warrant for Drennen, in which Drennen was ordered to stay at a health facility for 30 days in Huntington. He was released early.

White said Drennen did not receive any help at the mental hospital.

She eventually asked Drennen to leave their house. When asked in court if the decision was related to drug use, White said yes.

Drennen’s legal team has argued Drennen had a mental illness at the time of the attack and should be found not guilty as a result. Dr. Clifford Hudson, a forensic psychologist hired by the defense, said despite Drennen’s past drug use, he continued to display “psychotic symptoms” after quitting.

“As time goes on, while there can be prolonged reactions to amphetamines that may persist in some small percentage of people, there also becomes an increasing likelihood that he might have a different kind of mental health condition.”

Dr. David Clayman, testifying for the prosecution, argued Drennen should still be held criminally responsible for his actions.

“At the time of the alleged crime, that mental disease or defect was not contributing to his ability to understand right from wrong or to conform his behavior in accordance with the law,” he said.

The jury will return Friday at 9:30 a.m. for instructions and closing arguments.