JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — A Johnson City man who faces a plethora of previous felony charges is now accused of the March 18 murder of a 20-year-old woman whose body was found in an apartment complex.

The Johnson City Police Department (JCPD) announced Wednesday that a Washington County Grand Jury had returned an indictment on Billy Joe Anderson, 1902 Indian Ridge Road. It charges Anderson, who has been jailed in the Washington County Detention Center since late March, with second degree murder in the death of Brionah Tester.

Photo: Billy Anderson, courtesy of the Washington County Detention Center
Photos of Brionah Tester, Courtesy of Destnee Shasteen

Anderson, 33, is also charged with unlawful possession of a weapon, alteration of permanent numbers and tampering with evidence.

According to the JCPD, officers responded to the 200 block of McCall Circle on March 18, where they found Tester with a single gunshot wound. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

JCPD Captain Kevin Peters said police had developed Anderson as a suspect very quickly. He said Anderson had been staying at the McCall Circle apartment “off and on” for some time and that he and Tester were “acquaintances.”

“Some witnesses had gave us some information which ultimately led to us being able to place the charges against him for the homicide,” Peters said.

He didn’t have much to add regarding what led up to the shooting.

“There was just some type of altercation that happened earlier in the day, which resulted in Mr. Anderson firing one shot and it striking Ms. Tester,” Peters said.

He said JCPD is confident after a weeks-long investigation “that it was Mr. Anderson that was responsible for the murder itself.

“We looked at several other people through tips we’d received online and other people calling, we ran those tips, nothing panned out,” Peters said. “All evidence led to Mr. Anderson.”

That evidence led to Anderson quite quickly, in fact. Police got a warrant for first-degree murder issued March 21, just three days after the killing. It happened after Anderson was picked up and charged in a car theft case.

Peters said rather than serve the warrant, after conferring with the district attorney the JCPD decided to take more time. Anderson had a probation violation and was held on that in the meantime.

“We still had more witnesses to interview, still had more evidence to process, we still had evidence to send off to the lab to be tested,” Peters said. “We knew Mr. Anderson was being held on no bond so he wasn’t going to go anywhere.

“After reviewing the case with the district attorney’s office they decided to go with second-degree murder.”

Grieving mom says she’s unhappy with charge

Kristin Winegar spoke to News Channel 11 after the charges were placed. Bringing more flowers and balloons to her daughter’s still fresh grave and rearranging the many mementoes already there, Winegar didn’t hold back about her disappointment in the charge.

Kristin Winegar looks at the head of her daugher Brionah Tester’s grave in Johnson City, Tenn. May 11, 2022. Tester, 20, was killed March 18 and Billy Anderson was charged May 11 with second-degree murder in her death. (WJHL Photo)

“I’ve known since March 21st who actually killed my kid,” Winegar said. “But just now being charged it and only second-degree murder on top of that? No. You ask me, either he needs life and no parole or he needs the death sentence.”

Winegar broke down as she talked about the future even as Anderson’s case gets ready to move through the courts.

“You want to be honest, I’m lost,” Winegar said. “She’s what I had. Now I don’t got that. She’s the one that kept me on my toes, not the other way around. I don’t get to be a grandma — he took that from me. I don’t literally get to see my kid grow up to be an adult and make something literally out of herself because they took that from me. They took it from her dad.”

Winegar said she believes Tester’s death is tied to a robbery that went wrong, “and my kid took a fall for someone else.” She said she thinks more people were involved.

“I want justice for my kid. If they can’t give me justice, then her family’s gonna get justice — period.”

She said Tester died over a robbery someone else committed against Anderson.

“And my kid wouldn’t set him up, so my kid took the fall. So each and every one of them? I just want justice.

“They can’t get it, I’ll get it. Right there’s my spot,” Winegar said, pointing to the grave behind her. “And I’ll lay with her.”

Anderson in and out of jail in run up to killing

A News Channel 11 investigation found that Anderson had a string of arrests, a number of them felonies, in the months leading up to Tester’s killing.

On Sept. 22, 2021, he was arrested in the McDonald’s parking lot on East Main Street in Johnson City and charged with possession of methamphetamine for resale or delivery after police found 29 grams of meth in six separate bags. Two days later, he was charged with car theft because the car he’d been in two days earlier was stolen.

Anderson posted $10,000 bail for each of those incidents.

He was arrested again Oct. 21, when he was found with 7 grams of meth after being stopped for speeding. Because of the outstanding warrant for car theft he was jailed on $12,000 bond, which he also posted.

Two arrests followed in November including one in which he was charged with 24 grams of meth (another felony) and posted $30,000 bail.

Anderson was arrested three more times in January, including one time when police said they found 34 grams of meth, another drug, scales, a metal grinder and 15 .40-caliber pistol rounds. Anderson bonded out for the last time prior to the alleged March car theft, this time on a $20,000 bond.

When asked about whether the JCPD would have moved to keep Anderson jailed, Peters explained such decisions are out of law enforcement’s hands.

Kevin Peters of the Johnson City Police Department discusses the investigation that led to Billy Anderson’s arrest on a murder charge. (WJHL Photo)

“We investigate the crimes that come up and whether somebody’s out on bond or whether they’ve been released after serving their time, that’s out of our hands,” Peters said. “Our job’s just to do the investigation.”

Destini Riggs, a friend of Tester’s since the fifth grade, said she was glad the charges were finally placed against Anderson.

“I’ve heard different things about people that’s been involved,” Riggs said. “I’m not 100% sure about it but I just hope that what they’re finding out is true, that he was the only person involved.”

Riggs questioned why Anderson hadn’t been kept behind bars at some point as he was arrested and charged repeatedly in the fall and early winter.

“Now that I know he had all those charges and was able to bond out I do wonder how he was able to get out of those, and I’m hoping he won’t be able to get out of this … at all. I hope he gets everything that’s coming for him, and worse.”

Like Kristin Winegar, Riggs is still trying to process the death of a friend she hadn’t seen for several months before the murder.

She said Tester had “a wild side,” but that “she made sure you were happy before she was happy herself. She would do anything she could for someone that she loved.”

Riggs said she learned about it that night on Facebook and went through a gamut of emotions.

“I went from being fine sitting in my recliner here to being in a whole breaking mode point in my bed, crying for mercy saying I’m hoping this is not real, because I was hoping it wasn’t,” Riggs said. “But it was.”

The JCPD reports Anderson will be given a separate court date for the new charges. He remains in the detention center on a bond of $100,000.

Anderson was in court Wednesday for allegedly assaulting a jail officer and a fellow inmate on April 13. The jail officer reported that Anderson had the other inmate in a headlock and after breaking them up, the officer noticed a 5-inch metal “shank” or homemade knife in Anderson’s hand.