CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A Chesterfield County judge reversed the murder conviction of a suspect linked to the 2019 homicide of an 18-year-old.
The incident occurred around 4 a.m. on Sept. 26, 2019, in the 6200 block of Gatesgreen Drive.
The Chesterfield County Police Department said officers who responded to the scene found Bryson Andrew Mitchell, 18, of the 6300 block of Gatesgreen Drive, unconscious and suffering from what appeared to be a gunshot wound. At a press conference on Tuesday, Colonel Jeffrey S. Katz said Mitchell was shot in the head once following a car crash into a front porch.
Mitchell was pronounced dead after being transported to a local hospital.
Colonel Katz said during the investigation, two suspects were identified and compelling evidence was collected demonstrating they were both at the location of the murder.
Nearly a year later, police arrested Samira Tarabay-Whitfield, 21, and Demetrius Roots Jr., 20, for this homicide. Whitfield was charged with being an accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice on July 7. Roots was arrested and charged for use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and shooting into an occupied vehicle.
Katz said one of the defendants was in possession of a firearm that was of the caliber that was used to kill Mitchell.
Roots elected to have a jury trial, in which the jury ultimately found him guilty of second-degree murder, use of a firearm while committing a murder and malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle. He was initially sentenced to 25-years — 20 for the murder, two for the shooting charge and three for the use of a firearm.
After this conviction, Roots made a motion to set aside the verdict challenging the “sufficiency of the evidence” — essentially challenging if there was enough evidence to support the jury’s verdict.
Colonel Katz said Judge David Johnson, of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court of the County of Chesterfield, overturned that conviction in July.
Johnson ruled that there was enough evidence to prove that Roots’ cell phone was at the crime scene but not enough to determine if he was there or if he fired the gun.
Here is Judge Johnson’s full ruling:
Commonwealth’s Attorney Stacey Davenport, said the judge chose to “substitute his own judgment” for that of the jury. She said the 12 jury members spent three days in court reviewing evidence and arguments made by council. She added the jury came to a guilty verdict and recommended sentencing after “extensive deliberation.”
“As a result of Judge Johnson’s ruling, Bryson Mitchell’s killer will be acquitted. He will be released, a free man, with no recourse left for Bryson’s family or this community,” Davenport said. “Never before have I seen a judge completely set aside a jury’s guilty verdict and acquit a defendant without allowing our appellate courts the opportunity to fully review the case.”
Because Roots’ conviction was overturned Katz said Whitfield cannot be charged for the crime because her co-defendant was acquitted.
“We were in court yesterday [Monday] asking that [Judge Johnson] change the ruling he issued on Thursday and he reaffirmed it so I fully expect that he will issue the order acquitting the defendant,” Davenport said.
Katz said Tuesday he is “outraged, disgusted and angry at this decision.”
Katz noted that Judge Johnson is up for political reappointment in the next year.
“The judge has the authority to do what the judge did, it’s a very rarely, if ever used power but it was exercised in this particular instance and the judge and those who are responsible for the reappointment of that judge will have to take that into consideration going forward,” he said.
Davenport said Judge Johnson reaffirmed his ruling in court Monday. She expects he will issue an order acquitting Roots soon.
Judge Johnson’s office gave no comment on the matter Tuesday.
Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney Stacey Davenport gave 8News the following statement:
I do not believe this ruling is in any way the responsibility of the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office. We successfully proved our case, as evidenced by the jury’s guilty verdict. We disagree with the Judge’s conclusion, as did the jurors.