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‘I know who killed my son’: Mother critical of judge’s ruling to overturn jury’s guilty verdict of suspected murderer

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 11:28 PM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - For two years, Sarah Esmailka has experienced a storm of emotions. Grief over the murder of her son Bryson Mitchell in 2019, and now a flood of anger over the justice she believes was denied.

“I sat through three days of trial, I saw the evidence that the jury saw, and I know who killed my son,” Esmailka said. “There are so many things that I’ll never get to do, he deserved better than this.”

July 8, Judge David Johnson overturned Demetrius Roots’ murder conviction even though a jury found him guilty. The judge ruled there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Roots was the triggerman.

“To find out that it was for naught, it’s very disappointing,” Esmialka said. “As far as I’m concerned, Demetrius Roots killed my son.”

But NBC12 legal expert Steve Benjamin says if a judge concludes that the evidence in a case is legally insufficient to sustain a verdict, he has a duty to set the verdict aside.

“It’s important to understand that the judge did exactly what he’s supposed to do, exactly the way he’s supposed to do it,” Benjamin said.

According to a rule from the State Supreme Court, even if the jury returns a verdict of guilty, the court may, on motion of the accused, set aside the verdict if the evidence is insufficient as a matter of law to sustain a conviction.

“This same determination is made in every single case that is sent to a jury that results in a conviction. In every case, a judge is required to review that verdict,” Benjamin said. “If he had not done what he did, he would not be doing his job.”

That lack of evidence stems from key surveillance video, which the judge claims it’s impossible to identify Demetrius Roots as the suspect firing the gun that killed Mitchell.

Benjamin also had concerns about the Chesterfield police chief and commonwealth’s attorney publicly expressing their displeasure of the ruling.

“Public criticism that may often be inaccurate and false impairs public trust in the criminal justice system,” Benjamin said.

But Esmailka says she is satisfied with how police and the commonwealth’s attorney responded to her son’s case and plans to honor her son’s memory by continuing to speak out.

“I have to bring awareness to this in hopes that no one else ever has to sit in my seat again,” Esmailka said.

Roots acquittal means he can’t be tried for Mitchell’s murder again. Currently, Roots is behind bars at Riverside jail awaiting a trial for drug charges later this month.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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