HIBBING — A quiet Christmas night nearly three years ago quickly devolved into "mass chaos" as gunshots rang out and a man collapsed in the street, witnesses recalled Monday.
A 911 call from a woman identifying herself as the girlfriend of the victim, 34-year-old Jeryel Octavious McBeth, set the stage as the first of several days of testimony got underway in State District Court in the long-awaited trial of Jerome Dionte Spann.
"He shot my boyfriend!" the woman was heard screaming on the audio recording as a dispatcher struggled to ascertain details, though the caller did state that it was a "Jerome" who was responsible.
Spann, 32, is facing charges of premeditated first-degree murder, intentional second-degree murder and second-degree assault in the Dec. 25, 2018, shooting that killed McBeth and grazed another man, 25-year-old Jamien Stuckey, outside a residence at 2408 Third Ave. E., just after 7:30 p.m.
Spann, who faces mandatory life imprisonment without the possibility of parole if convicted of the top charge, waived his right to a jury and will have his fate decided solely by Judge Rachel Sullivan.
Prosecutors allege that the shooting came amid a feud between Spann and McBeth, with a police officer responding to the defendant's residence on Christmas Eve after the victim reportedly showed up "banging on his door and threatening to assault him."
But defense attorneys have indicated they will rely on an alibi defense, attempting to prove that Spann could not have committed the shooting because he was gathered with family members at a St. Paul cemetery that day.
Without a jury in the courtroom, St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Fralich waived the opportunity to deliver an opening statement, as did defense attorneys Elizabeth Polling and Hannah Forti, allowing Sullivan to immediately begin hearing from witnesses.
David Johnson, a retired Hibbing police officer, testified that he was driving home from his mother's house when he heard a "commotion" followed by five gunshots. He circled back to the scene and placed his own 911 call.
Johnson testified that he found the victim on the ground, surrounded by roughly a half-dozen bystanders. McBeth seemed to have at least one gunshot wound near a nipple, he said. At one point on the 911 audio, Johnson could be heard stating: "Hang in there, buddy; we're gonna get help."
The former officer said one woman was "hysterical" and "very frantic." Johnson attempted to gather information from witnesses, but said no one could tell him much other than the shooter may have run into a house across the street.
Sgt. Adam Kladivo, then of the Hibbing Police Department, was the first officer on the scene.
"It was mass chaos," he said. "I was trying to get people separated. … Other officers started to arrive and we were trying to get the witnesses isolated."
Kladivo, now a St. Louis County sheriff's deputy, testified that due to the crowd, he was unable to render any aid to McBeth before an ambulance arrived. The officer said he could not recall the victim saying anything before being taken from the scene.
Kladivo testified that he learned from witnesses that a "Mr. Spann" may have been the shooter. But the suspect was not located at the scene or at the house in question. The officer said what he described as a bullet fragment, and an apparent bullet hole in a house, but no firearm was ever recovered.
PREVIOUSLY: Judge to remain on Hibbing murder trial
Dr. Anne Bracey of the Midwest Medical Examiner's Office performed an autopsy on McBeth the following day. She testified that he suffered two significant gunshot wounds that penetrated his chest wall and lungs. A third bullet went through his hand. She said she could not discern the distance from which the shots were fired.
Bracey added that toxicology reports showed the victim had methamphetamine, amphetamine and marijuana in his system, but she said she was unable to speak to any impairment at the time of his death. She ruled the death a homicide due to multiple gunshot wounds.
"In this instance, I don't think the (drug) levels were contributory to death," the forensic pathologist testified. "The gunshot wounds were a more compelling cause of death."
While testimony is likely to conclude in the coming days, a verdict may not come for several weeks or months. Attorneys are expected to submit closing arguments in writing, after which Sullivan will have seven days to render her verdict.
Spann, who was permitted to wear dress clothes in court, has remained in the St. Louis County Jail since being arrested in St. Paul days after the shooting.