Joan Demeo’s son struggled daily to remain clean as a recovering heroin addict before his mother was brutally murdered. Dealing with that loss has been the biggest challenge to that sobriety and recovery.
Instead of getting high, Robert “Rob” Demeo sought counseling and increased his attendance at Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
On Thursday afternoon, after nearly 15 months, he was sitting in a Bradenton courtroom when he finally had justice for his mother. Her boyfriend, Barak Pozas, was found guilty of first-degree murder for beating her to death on April 13, 2018, with dumbbells outside the mobile home they shared.
“I stand here today in front of you with another day clean and sober proud that after taking my mother from me, Barak, I refuse to allow you to take my recovery,” Demeo said in the courtroom Thursday.
On April 13, 2018, Joan Demeo came home for a lunch break from her job. When she never came back, her best friend, Kathy Coraccio, went looking for her. When she got to Demeo’s mobile home in Royal Garden Estates, 6904 Cortez Road, Bradenton, she found Demo dead inside the carport.
During this week’s trial, jurors got to listen to the 911 call she made next. Jurors also heard testimony from Manatee sheriff’s deputies who found Pozas shortly afterward. He was drunk and celebrating his 60th birthday at the nearby Tommy Knockers Saloon, 7004 Cortez Road, Bradenton.
Pozas still had her blood on his hands and clothes, as he sat drinking at the bar.
The jury of 12 deliberated for less than five hours before delivering the guilty verdict. Later Thursday afternoon, Circuit Judge Lon Arend sentenced Pozas to the automatic life in prison sentence his conviction carried since prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty.
Coraccio also addressed the courtroom, about the loss of her best friend.
“Today she will rest in peace and you will have to live with this forever,” Coraccio said. “Barak Pozas, you will never rest in peace.”
Demeo’s sister, Julie Carr, also addressed the court about the loss to their family, as their brother also sat in the courtroom.
But Demeo’s death would not be in vain, her son vowed in court on Thursday, as he expressed his commitment to advocate for other addicts and alcoholics and against domestic violence. Since his mother was murdered, he said three other women have contacted him and shared stories of how they say they were abused by Pozas.
“I will continue to be a voice for the ones suffering in silence, too afraid to use their voice and ask for help,” Demeo said.
Pozas and his defense chose not to make a statement in court.
After the verdict, jurors stood outside the courthouse, questioning assistant state attorneys Suzanne O’Donnell and Rebecca Freel about the case. Several of them embraced Robert Demeo and Coraccio, or expressed their condolences.
Robert Demeo thanked them for getting justice for his mother.
One juror, Kristina Sakelaris, said she felt panic going into their deliberations, wanting to make sure they made the right decision. But that decision was about whether the murder was premeditated, she and another juror said, because they did not doubt he had killed her.
Together they worked to piece together the evidence in the case prosecutors had laid out for them. In the end, their decision was clear another juror said.
“Justice was served,” several jurors said.