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Teen found not guilty in fatal shooting of E.C. Glass student in Lynchburg

Teen found not guilty in fatal shooting of E.C. Glass student in Lynchburg

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{child_flags:top_story}Teen not guilty in fatal shooting of E.C. Glass student

{child_byline}By Richard Chumney

rchumney@newsadvance.com

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A Lynchburg jury found a 17-year-old not guilty of murder Tuesday in the fatal shooting of a high school student after the teen’s attorney argued his client fired in self-defense.

After deliberating for more than two hours on the second day of the trial in Lynchburg Circuit Court, an all-white jury of six men and six women also acquitted Austin Daniel Rozdilski of malicious wounding and firearms charges but found him guilty of unlawful wounding, a lesser offense, in the May 16 shooting that also injured another teen.

Rozdilski, a former student at Brookville High School, testified he shot Dre’yon “Biggs” Browley, 18, and Justin “JB” Barnett, 19, after the two attempted to rob him at gunpoint behind an apartment building off Langhorne Road.

Prosecutors, however, contended Browley and Barnett were unarmed and the victims of an angry teen who had been misled over a potential black market gun sale.

Browley, who was shot in the face and stomach, died from his injuries; Barnett survived but spent more than two weeks recovering in the hospital. Both were E.C. Glass High School seniors and on the varsity football team at the time of the shooting.

Browley’s death sent shock waves through the E.C. Glass community. Two days after the shootings, hundreds of community members gathered at the school’s football field for a prayer vigil. When the jury ended deliberations shortly after 8 p.m., nearly 40 people were waiting to hear the verdict.

Rozdilski, who appeared in court in a black dress shirt and khakis, showed no reaction to the jury’s decision. Barnett and others left the courthouse in tears.

In a statement emailed Tuesday night to The News & Advance, Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison said the jury’s decisions led prosecutors to believe the jury found Rozdilski’s actions against Browley and Barnett were done in self defense.

“While this result is disappointing, I know that Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys Janell Johnson and Jennifer Bennett prepared for months for this trial and fought hard to hold Rozdilski accountable for taking the life one one young adult and severely injuring another,” Harrison said.

During the high-profile trial, prosecutors said Rozdilski arrived at The Meadows apartments shortly before 7:30 p.m. to purchase a fully automatic pistol from Barnett for more than $400.

But according to testimony from Barnett, he was unable to acquire a gun by the time they agreed to meet.

When Rozdilski arrived and learned there was no gun, prosecutors said, he became angry and began arguing with Browley. The argument turned violent, prompting Rozdilski to shoot the two football players with a 9mm pistol he had hidden in his waistband.

Bennett said Barnett was shot in the right buttock as he ran from Rozdilski. He fell to the ground about 25 feet from where Browley was shot.

Disputing the prosecution, Rozdilski’s attorney, Joseph Sanzone, argued the shooting occurred after an elaborate attempt to “set up” his client. He described the prosecution’s narrative as “completely made up.”

From the witness stand, Rozdilski testified both Barnett and Browley were armed with pistols when he met the pair. He said soon after he arrived, Browley 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.”

Rozdilski testified he then shot Barnett as the 19-year-old “started to turn around” with a pistol in his hand.

Barnett denied ever possessing a firearm and investigators testified no weapons were recovered from the scene.

But Sanzone pointed to testimony from Ricky Hayden, a groundskeeper at The Meadows, as proof other weapons were involved in the incident. Hayden said he watched Barnett fall to the ground after he was shot and saw a gun fall with him.

“When he fell, the gun slid towards me,” Hayden said.

Rozdilski fled the scene in a blue Honda and drove to his home in Campbell County. When he arrived, he testified, he asked his mother to call police.

Upon arrival, police seized the firearm Rozdilski used in the shooting. Rozdilski also admitted to his involvement in the shooting, which Sanzone said was further proof his client acted in self- defense.

“Innocent people tend to cooperate,” Sanzone said.

Rozdilski, who is currently being held at the Lynchburg Juvenile Detention Center, is expected to face sentencing on the unlawful wounding conviction early next year. He faces up to five years in jail.

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Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.

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Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547. 

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