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Austin Rozdilski

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On May 16, 2019, police officers in Lynchburg, Virginia responded to a 911 call at about 7:30 p.m. that two people had been shot at The Meadows apartment complex.

They found 18-year-old Dre’yon Browley and 19-year-old Justin Barnett bleeding from gunshot wounds. Both were taken to Lynchburg General Hospital. Browley died that night. Barnett would remain in the hospital for two weeks.

Witnesses said they saw a young, white man fleeing the apartment, driving away in a blue Honda. About three hours after the shooting, officers arrested 17-year-old Austin Rozdilski in adjacent Campbell County. He was charged with second-degree murder of Browley, malicious wounding of Barnett, and two counts of use of a firearm in committing a felony.

Rozdilski told detectives that he shot Browley and Barnett in self-defense, and that the weapon he used, a 9 mm pistol, was in his car.

Rozdilski’s trial in Lynchburg Circuit Court began on December 9, 2019. Prosecutors said that Rozdilski had met up with Browley and Barnett to buy a gun. He then argued with the two after he found out they didn’t have the weapon.

Barnett testified at the trial that he and Browley were unarmed at the time of the shooting. He said that he and Browley were unable to get the weapon that Rozdilski had sought to buy. That led to the argument and the shooting.

Rozdilski testified that both Barnett and Browley were armed with pistols, and that they tried to rob him of the $400 he had brought to buy a weapon. He said that Browley quickly grabbed him by the arm and placed the barrel of a gun to his head. "I drew my gun out and I shot two times," Rozdilski said. "I figured if I missed I'd get shot in the head.” He said he shot Barnett when Barnett started to turn around and showed a pistol.

Rozdilski said he fled and drove to his home in Campbell County. When he arrived, he testified, he asked his mother to call the police. "Innocent people tend to cooperate," his attorney, Joseph Sanzone said.

Shoring up Rozdilski’s story, a maintenance worker at the apartment complex testified for the defense that he saw a gun fall from Barnett after he was shot in the buttock by Rozdilski. He said he didn’t know what happened to the weapon. It wasn’t recovered by police.

On December 10, 2019, the jury acquitted Rozdilski on the murder and firearm charges, convicting him only of unlawful wounding, a lesser included offense of malicious wounding. After the verdict, some members of Lynchburg’s Black community voiced frustration. They believed an all-white jury had been too lenient on a white defendant accused of shooting two black men.

Rozdilski was released on bond awaiting sentencing, which was further delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the summer, Lynchburg police uncovered new evidence related to the shooting after officers arrested a man on unrelated charges. The man told police that he took a gun from Barnett, who was a friend of his, right after the shooting.

Based on that new information, Sanzone moved to vacate the conviction. At a hearing on March 31, 2021, Sanzone argued that this new evidence undercut Barnett’s testimony and supported Rozdilski’s testimony that the two teenagers tried to rob him.

Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge F. Patrick Yeatts granted the motion to vacate the conviction that day. He said the new evidence bolstered Rozdilski’s self-defense claim. He said that Barnett had given police several different accounts of the events leading up to the shooting.

After Yeatts’s ruling, prosecutors said they would consider retrying Rozdilski on the malicious wounding charge, but then filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted May 13, 2021.

Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney Bethany Harrison said in a statement that her office had contacted Barnett’s family and that "Barnett made it clear that he does not want to pursue this matter further."

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 5/22/2021
Last Updated: 5/22/2021
County:Lynchburg City
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2019
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:17
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No