No reasonable person would have reacted the way Jamal Tyshawn Jackson did on Sept. 1, 2018, a prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
With little to no provocation and without making any attempt to retreat, Jackson shot Scott Allen Pennington in the face at close range amid a crowded bar scene along West First Street in downtown Duluth, said Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jon Holets.
“There might’ve been a western bar across the street," Holets said in his closing argument, "but this wasn’t the Wild West.”
It took a jury less than three hours to agree with the prosecutor, finding the 27-year-old Jackson guilty of intentional second-degree murder.
Jackson looked straight ahead, not facing the jury of six women and six men or displaying any apparent emotion as 6th Judicial District Judge Theresa Neo read the verdict at about 2:15 p.m.
The crowded courtroom remained calm — the only reaction being some weeping from Pennington's family. Outside the courtroom, they exchanged hugs and handshakes with Holets and Duluth police investigators.
Neo ordered Jackson to remain jailed without bail as he awaits a Nov. 26 sentencing date.
Over five days of testimony, much of the evidence in the case was undisputed. Jackson even took the witness stand last week, admitting that he shot Pennington, 31, shortly before 1 a.m. across the street from Aces on First, 113 W. First St. But he claimed he did so in self-defense, with defense attorney Laura Zimm indicating the case came down to approximately 30 seconds not seen on surveillance video.
Holets contended to jurors that Jackson "coldly and consciously made the decision to shoot and kill Scott Pennington, absent any danger to himself." While there wasn't a clear motive, he told jurors they didn't need to "read the defendant's mind" to find him guilty.
“He elected to shoot an unarmed man in the face," Holets said. "There is no objective evidence to show that Scott did anything to provoke him.”
Zimm asked jurors to believe the testimony of her client, who told jurors last week that he had been receiving threats in the months leading up to the incident and believed there was a "hit" out on him over false rumors that he was involved in a burglary. The two men he believed to be responsible for the threats were both outside the bar that night, but Pennington and Jackson were not known to one another.
In the brief moments not captured on video, Zimm said Pennington got "in (Jackson's) face, and not in a friendly manner," before blowing smoke at him. Citing Jackson's testimony, she said Jackson backed up and then had a lit cigarette thrown at him.
Pennington, according to the account, then told Jackson to "move the f--- around or I'll kill you." When Jackson expressed confusion, Pennington allegedly asked, "Do you think I'm playing?"
Zimm said Pennington started reaching toward a bulge on his side — a move that indicated to Jackson that he was retrieving a firearm.
“In that moment, Mr. Jackson’s fear of being killed was real," Zimm told jurors. "In that moment, Mr. Jackson felt he had no other option, no alternative.”
Holets disagreed, calling Jackson's testimony "incredible." Out of 10 people to testify about the encounter, the prosecutor said only Jackson claimed to have heard Pennington make any threats. No other witness recalled any altercation of any kind in or outside the bar that night.
Holets said surveillance video shows Jackson following Pennington's friend, Alex H.D. Johnson, across the street moments before the shooting. Jackson had described Johnson as an "enemy."
The prosecutor suggested Pennington was an innocent victim who wound up between the two men.
“He followed Alex Johnson across the street," Holets said. "He shot an unarmed man in the face. There was nothing preventing him from just walking away.”
Zimm, though, said Jackson was left with "only a second or two" to react when he believed Pennington was reaching for a gun. Faced with verbal threats in the moment, and an ongoing belief that his life was in danger, she said Jackson "believed if he walked away he would be shot."
“There is nothing more grave than facing someone who you believe is about to shoot you," she said. "Guns, more than any other weapon, result in death immediately.”
Neo instructed jurors on the required elements of Jackson's self-defense claim, which include a reasonable belief that there is an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm and a duty to retreat. It is the state's burden to prove that a self-defense claim is invalid.
Holets questioned why Jackson would not simply walk away before pulling the trigger. Instead, he said, the defendant shot Pennington, fled the crime scene, disposed of the murder weapon, changed his clothes, hid in an apartment and absconded to the Twin Cities in the hours after the shooting.
The prosecutor said a claim of self-defense is not a "death warrant to exact revenge."
“It’s not an excuse to kill the friend of a man who made fun of you," Holets told the jury.