A Trinidad native who served two years behind bars awaiting trial for a 2017 murder — which prosecutors now say he didn’t commit — walked out of a Bronx courthouse a free man after his case was dismissed Tuesday.
Virgil Mitchell, 34, was elated after leaving the courtroom with his attorneys after his double-shooting case was formally tossed by Justice James McCarty on a strong recommendation by the Bronx District Attorney’s office.
Mitchell, the father of a 3-year-old boy who missed much of the boy’s early years, spoke positively about his future despite his injustice.
“I want to get back on with my life and just pick up back where I left off,” he said. “And move forward.”
Mitchell said his stint at Rikers Island “did some emotional damage,” but he vowed to “not to let it defeat me."
“Man, I don’t wish that on nobody,” he added about his time in the notorious jail complex while his charges were pending.
Prosecutors took a firm stance in court that the evidence pointed to Mitchell’s innocence in a Hunts Point shooting near an annual Caribbean music festival known as "Moksha” on June 25, 2017 around 6:10 p.m. Atiba Ramsey was killed in the gunfire. A second victim, Kenda Verwayne, was wounded.
The DA’s office began re-investigating after Mitchell’s lawyers Murray Richman and Valerie Casali took over the case in May, conducted their own probe and shared the results with prosecutors.
It wasn’t long before the Bronx DA’s office saw that the wrong man was in jail.
Mitchell, who was brought into the case by an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip, was picked out in a photo array and a lineup by one witness. But the one-witness identification that supported his arrest was debunked and supported by ample evidence that exonerates Mitchell, the DA’s office said.
An anonymous 911 caller referred to the shooter as “heavyset,” weighing about 240 pounds and about 6-foot-2. Mitchell is 5-foot-9 and about 180 pounds, according to police records.
And three witnesses provided to the DA’s office by the defense, all of whom had clean records, put Mitchell inside the heavily-secured Trinidadian festival “the entire time that they were."
They told prosecutors there was tight NYPD security — with the use of metal detector wands. As is customary during the event known as “holiday of Colors,” attendees were splashed with colorful paint. Prosecutors conceded that it is “highly likely” Mitchell’s clothes would have been drenched with paint and could not have “looked like a white [t-shirt]” which the gunman was said to have been wearing.
Prosecutors eventually conceded that the case against Mitchell was flimsy.
“The People’s assessment is that there is sufficient proof to support the position that the defendant is not the shooter,” prosecutors wrote in a dismissal memo filed Tuesday in Bronx Supreme Court.
“Virgil Mitchell’s physical attributes differ markedly from the description provided by witnesses,” the DA’s report says. “It is difficult to imagine how Mitchell could have gotten a gun into the festival such that he could have access to it later in the day given the tight security …”
At the time of his arrest in August 2017, Mitchell had been on the job as a utilities worker for National Grid for a decade and had no criminal record, according to his attorneys.
“If you looked at it closely, you had to see the holes in the case,” Richman said after the dismissal.
In court, Richman said the case shows that “justice is more than simply another body.”
The judge lauded both sides, calling the result “proof of the work the defense attorneys did,” noting he was “equally proud of the work the district attorneys’ office did in keeping an open mind ..."
Mitchell had been held without bail at Rikers on murder, assault and other charges since his arrest. In July, he was released on his own recognizance while the new information was vetted.
Mitchell’s lawyers say another suspect was identified through palm prints found on a vehicle at the scene.
A spokeswoman for the Bronx DA did not immediately respond to a question as to whether that person would be pursued.