A judge has upheld a first-degree murder indictment against the man accused of shooting two people, one fatally, on Christmas Day 2018 in Hibbing.
Jerome Dionte Spann, 31, faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole if convicted of the premeditated murder of 34-year-old Jeryel McBeth. He's also charged with intentional second-degree murder and second-degree assault.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Rachel Sullivan last week rejected a defense bid to dismiss the indictment due to alleged grand juror bias, insufficient instruction and inadmissible testimony.
"The defendant has failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that the alleged cumulative errors in the grand jury proceedings resulted in substantial prejudice to defendant," Sullivan wrote in an 18-page order. "The state has presented sufficient admissible credible evidence to support the grand jury’s determination of probable cause for issuance of the indictment."
Authorities said McBeth was standing outside a residence at 2408 Third Ave. E. in Hibbing with several others when Spann and another man exited a nearby SUV shortly after 7:30 p.m. Dec. 25, 2018.
According to a criminal complaint, Spann carried a handgun as he approached the group and allegedly shot McBeth three times, in the chest, shoulder and forearm. Spann continued shooting four or five rounds, striking 25-year-old Jamien Stuckey and nearly hitting another man before fleeing the scene, the complaint alleges.
A caller told a 911 dispatcher that McBeth had been hit in the chest and was lying on the ground, the complaint states. He was taken by ambulance to Fairview Range Medical Center in Hibbing, where he was pronounced dead. Stuckey's injuries were not life-threatening, and he was treated at a local hospital.
Spann was arrested Dec. 28 at a residence in St. Paul, where he has relatives.
Prosecutors initially charged Spann with intentional second-degree murder and second-degree assault, before convening the grand jury. Under Minnesota law, a first-degree murder charge can only be levied by the panel, consisting of 16-23 people, which meets in secret.
'Ample evidence' to support indictment
Defense attorney Elizabeth Polling argued that the process was flawed in several ways.
First, she said two or more grand jurors expressed bias in favor of law enforcement, citing questions posed to an officer about his prior knowledge and opinions about the case, along with one juror's statement that "I don't think you guys get paid enough."
But Sullivan said the scenario didn't "rise to the level of demonstrating a strong and deep impression ... in favor of law enforcement," and a prosecutor prevented questioning from straying into improper areas.
"Even if the court were to find that three of the grand jurors showed actual bias, and it does not so find, 15 qualified jurors would have concurred in the finding of the indictment and the indictment would remain valid under (Rules of Criminal Procedure)," Sullivan wrote.
Second, Polling criticized the testimony of two charged accomplices in the case. Kyshaun Klasko and Jenna Wersal told the grand jury that they picked up Spann, followed his directions, waited while he committed the shooting and then drove him away from the scene.
Both were charged with aiding an offender and received plea agreements that included cooperation in the prosecution of Spann. Because of that, Polling argued that grand jurors should have been given a special instruction regarding the reliability of their testimony.
Sullivan said it was "questionable" whether the two actually met the standard of legal accomplices, adding that grand jurors were made aware of their charges and plea agreements anyway.
"The grand jury was provided with sufficient information to determine the believability and weight to be given to the testimony offered during the grand jury proceedings," the judge wrote. "Additionally, the grand jury was provided with instructions indicating that they are the sole judges of a witness' believability."
Finally, Polling contended that several witness were allowed to give inadmissible testimony to the grand jury.
Among other examples, she said an officer told jurors that he had been dispatched to Spann's residence a day before the killing after Spann called 911 to report McBeth "banging on his door and threatening to assault him." The officer testified that he spoke with McBeth, who told him he was there to "beat him up" because Spann had "pulled a handgun on him a while ago."
The defense attorney also said a woman was allowed to testify that she learned Spann "was telling people he was going to do something" to McBeth and that they had "beef or issues." An investigator also stated that the woman had told him that Spann "has a gun and always carries a gun," and had been threatening McBeth's life, pulling a gun on him at a gas station earlier in December 2018.
Polling contended the various statements amounted to hearsay, character evidence and impermissible vouching testimony. But Sullivan concluded that there exists "ample evidence" to support the indictment, even without the statements in question.
"Defendant has failed to meet his burden to show that receipt of any allegedly inadmissible evidence 'so far influenced the grand jury that an indictment would not have been returned without it,'" the judge wrote, citing language from case law. "Indeed, the challenged statements address tangential matters that likely had little, if any, impact on the grand jury's determination."
Spann remains in the St. Louis County Jail on $500,000 bail. He is scheduled to be back in court Nov. 19.