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'Never felt more betrayed' | Sisters shocked after learning woman who admitted to killing their brother will not be tried in his death

WXIA-TV Atlanta 2/8/2023 Paola Suro (WXIA)

Brett Zachary's family said they are heartbroken and shocked after finding out that the woman who admitted to killing him will not be tried in his death.

Investigators said Zachary was stabbed to death by his wife, Roxanne, in 2020. Court documents show that she claimed it was self-defense. 

This week, a Gwinnett County judge granted her immunity after a January hearing, and she was released from jail Tuesday.

Zachary's sisters and mother have been seeking justice for nearly three years now.

His sister, Erin, said they felt some relief when Roxanne was arrested and charged with voluntary manslaughter the day after his death, but they believe the judge's decision to not allow this case to go to trial takes all that relief away.

"I've never felt more betrayed by the justice system, ever," she said. "Growing up, I saw a lot of injustice in my community and with people of color. So, I'm used to that. But never in a million years would I have thought that with the preponderance of evidence that was against her, that she would walk out of jail."

Zachary's sisters said that while the couple had a history of domestic violence, multiple witnesses, who were not allowed to speak in the immunity hearing, saw Roxanne beating Brett multiple times before his death. 

"I just saw her swing," she said. "When she swung, she connected and she hit him in his face and he began to bleed. For that judge to not even consider hearing testimony from us – if you didn’t want to hear it from me, ask one of the coworkers. Or someone else who was close enough to them that knew the characters of both of them. I would’ve been fine with it because I know what would’ve been said."

They told 11Alive believe the judge made this decision because of a double standard.

"Roxanne is like 5'5", maybe. 120 pounds, maybe. My brother was like 6'2", military veteran with trained skills, heavier than her and could completely have defended himself. But he wasn't that person," she explained. "Would it have been looked at the same way if a woman had been murdered and the man had marks on him? We would have said she was fighting for her life."

Documents also show Roxanne initially gave different versions of what happened.

"How was the judgment made with that many inconsistencies? How was she found immune from prosecution?" Erin questioned.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson told 11Alive that her office asked the court to not grant Roxanne immunity, and the DA wanted the case to go to trial.

She added that the judge and her office did not see eye-to-eye on this decision.

“I just was numb, angry, disappointed… It’s just an overwhelming feeling of let down, hurt, no justice," Zachary's other sister, Shakia, said.

The D.A. said her office will be reaching out to the Zachary family so that they can sit down and talk about the court's decision face-to-face.

The family said they have no plans to reach out to Roxanne.

"I would definitely like for her to clear his name," Erin added. "If you live your life for 50-plus years a certain way, you will want to be remembered the way that you live your life."

Zachary was 53 years old when he died. He had two sons, one who was also murdered. Erin said 2020 was a very difficult year for them.

"In 2020, I didn't lose one sibling. I lost three siblings," Erin said. "Three of my siblings died in 2020. So, it was especially hard year for us as a family. So, it's been rough. But with the assistance of therapy and victim groups, it has been a little easier. It is getting tolerable, is what I can say."

Months after his death, his family had to fight to get permission from Roxanne to bury him.

Brett converted to Islam when he was 16, according to his family, and his last wish was to have a traditional Muslim burial; one of the guidelines is to be buried three days after his death. However, Erin said the medical examiner told her the body could not be released to her because she was not listed as the next of kin.

“I needed to contact his wife, which is the next of kin, and I was like, 'I don’t think that’s a good idea for me to have contact with her'," she previously explained to 11Alive. "To know that I would have to ask her, almost beg her for something she didn’t even cherish in life, I can’t even explain to you how hard that was for me. It ripped my soul out.”

According to Georgia law, how a person is buried, cremated, or interned is to be carried out by next of kin. The law has clauses preventing children under 18, divorced spouses or someone who is mentally impaired from carrying out the final wishes. 

The law further states, if "any person charged with murder or voluntary manslaughter in connection with the decedent's death and whose charges are known to the funeral director", then the right of disposition moves to the next qualifying person. 

"I felt like from start to finish, we were on defense," Erin added. "I always felt we were proving something."

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