CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — A Chesterfield mother is speaking out after learning the person convicted of killing her son could soon be a free man. This comes after last week’s bombshell announcement that a county judge reversed a 2019 murder conviction.
Sarah Esmailka, the victim’s mother, told 8News she is beyond disappointed and feels her son was robbed of justice. She said what scares her, even more, is that the once-convicted man could soon be back on the streets. Esmailka said the judge made a huge mistake and ruled outside of his authority.
“My son’s already gone,” Esmailka said. “Someone else’s son or daughter or whoever will be next. They will be next. I hate to think that’s what it’s going to take, but this judge has no place sitting on a bench in anyone’s trial in Chesterfield County.”
Esmailka is sure of who killed her son.
“There’s no doubt, absolutely no doubt in my mind,” Esmailka told 8News.
She believes Demetrius Roots, 20, is the man responsible for pulling the trigger in 2019, murdering her 18-year-old son. Bryson Mitchell was found in a crashed car with a fatal gunshot wound to the head.
Roots was found guilty of murder during a jury trial and sentenced to twenty-five years. Samira Tarabay-Whitfield was also charged in connection to the case, with being an accessory after the fact and obstruction of justice. Last week there was a surprising twist in the case — Chesterfield County Police Chief Jeffrey S. Katz and Commonwealth’s Attorney Stacey Davenport held a press conference announcing that Judge David Johnson reversed the jury’s decision.
Judge Johnson said the case was lacking evidence and that the jury’s decision was based on “sheer speculation.”
“Never before have I ever seen a judge completely set aside a jury’s guilty verdict,” Davenport said.
Davenport voiced outrage and frustration along with Col. Katz and Mitchell’s mother.
“It’s literally disgusting,” Esmailka told 8News.
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 very rare] 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.
Court documents show the Commonwealth’s Attorney filed reasons for reconsideration and 8News was told the judge denied it and stood his ground. Esmailka and the Commonwealth’s Attorney claim the judge overstepped his judicial power and inserted his own opinion.
In Virginia, a judge does have the right to overturn convictions, but the Commonwealth is arguing only under certain circumstances and this case isn’t one of them.
In the Commonwealth’s motion of reconsider, it states that “The court should reconsider its decision to set aside the jury verdict as it supplanted its own view of the evidence for that of the jury’s findings and improperly found that the jury speculated in reaching its verdict.”
It goes on to say:
Esmailka told 8News that Judge Johnson has been presiding over the case since the beginning and allowed the jury to view all evidence. She said Judge Johnson never questioned the credibility of evidence in the courtroom, allowed jurors to view all evidence and did not order any piece to be thrown out. Furthermore, she adds that a Grand Jury indicted Roots based on evidence which is why it was moved to Circuit Court and the trial process began.
“Every piece of evidence that was submitted from the Commonwealth and the defense, [Judge Johnson] had to scrutinize and decide if it were in fact credible evidence that should make it to the eyes of the jury and he allowed all of that,” Esmailka said. “He had his right to feel how he felt. He could have turned this over to an appellate court and that would have been in his right to do, but he overstepped tremendously.”
Cell phone data puts Roots at the crime scene, however, Judge Johnson determined the data only places his cell phones there, not him.
Tarabay-Whitfield was also tracked to the scene of the crime. There is also surveillance video that was shown in court that shows the crash and shooting of Mitchell, however, Judge Johnson says it’s too hard to make out if it’s Roots pulling the trigger.
“I watched my son being murdered on video,” said Esmailka. “I know who killed my son. It’s not reversible and no one will ever be punished for the murder of my son.”
The Commonwealth’s Attorney said Roots will likely be acquitted soon. He is currently behind bars for a drug charge.
Esmailka said she will continue to fight for what’s right, but does not feel safe in the community and county she’s lived her entire life in. She adds that her family has been ripped apart by this tragedy and it’s taken a huge toll on her mental health.