Hibbing man guilty of Christmas Day murder
The defense claimed unreliable witnesses and inconsistent statements in the trial of Jerome Spann, but a judge refused to accept the late filing from attorneys who missed the deadline to submit a closing argument.
A Hibbing man was found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of another man on Christmas Day 2018.
Jerome Dionte Spann, 32, will receive an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole as a result of the verdict returned by Judge Rachel Sullivan late Monday.
Sullivan also found Spann guilty of intentional second-degree murder and second-degree assault in the shooting that killed 34-year-old Jeryel Octavious McBeth. Two other men, Jamien and Timothy Stuckey, were also reported to have been struck or grazed by gunfire after Spann exited an SUV and opened fire at a crowd outside 2408 Third Ave. E.
Sullivan did not elaborate on her conclusions in the two-page order, which was made public early Tuesday. She will have another seven days to prepare a more substantive order with her factual basis and analysis.
“The convictions in this matter have been a long time in coming for the family of Jeryel McBeth," St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Fralich said in a statement. "We are hopeful this will provide the family some peace as we move forward to sentencing.”
Spann earlier this year waived his right to a jury trial, allowing the judge alone to serve as fact-finder at a three-day trial that started Aug. 23.
Sullivan reached her verdict without considering any argument from defense attorneys, who contended they were not given adequate time to prepare a closing argument and defied a deadline set by the judge.
Fralich argued in her submission that Spann approached the group on Christmas evening, asking "What up now, Jason?" as he pulled out a gun and fired five shots.
McBeth, who reportedly went by "Jason," was hit with three shots, two of which perforated his lungs and another that went through his forearm, according to trial testimony.
Fralich noted that McBeth's girlfriend, April Lewandowski, told a 911 dispatcher that a "Jerome" had just shot her boyfriend, and that Usavious Stuckey immediately told police he saw Spann, who he knew, holding and firing the gun.
In seeking to prove premeditation, the prosecutor noted police had been called to Spann's residence Dec. 24, after McBeth reportedly arrived and was threatening to assault him. Spann, she said, armed himself with a revolver on Christmas Day and "was out looking" for McBeth, allegedly pursuing a car he believed the victim to be in.
Fralich further alleged that Spann ordered witnesses to remain silent and tried to avoid known locations, fleeing to St. Paul, where he was arrested Dec. 28.
Defense says unreliable witnesses led to false identification
Defense attorney Elizabeth Polling on Thursday filed a closing argument, three days after Sullivan said she was closing the trial record and taking the verdict under advisement without hearing from the defense.
Polling, in a letter attached to her submission, told the court that her 13-page brief was "completed with the time needed to comply with the Rules of Professional Responsibility and the 6th Amendment," which sets forth rights guaranteed to criminal defendants.
"It is important that Mr. Spann's voice be heard," Polling wrote.
The defense attorney focused her argument on the reliability of the four alleged eyewitnesses who identified Spann as the shooter and pointed to inconsistencies in their accounts.
Polling argued that Lewandowski was seated in a car at the time and could not have actually seen the shooting. Further, the attorney noted that the victim's girlfriend and a retired Hibbing police officer, David Johnson, who was passing through the area at the time, both told dispatchers that the shooter had apparently run into a house — contradicting the narrative of Spann fleeing in an SUV.
"Evidence shows that an argument and conflict occurred in the street prior to the shooting," Polling wrote. "Witnesses testified to the yelling and screaming involved with the occupants of the house. However, the state simply ignores that a key eyewitness states the shooter returned to the house whose occupants were arguing with (McBeth) directly before the shooting."
The defense attorney further claimed that Klasko and Wersal could not be trusted after both received favorable probationary sentences in exchange for agreeing to assist the prosecution in Spann's case.
Polling questioned the account of how the couple supposedly "serendipitously encountered" Spann, who was close friends with Klasko, and picked him up a short time before the shooting.
"If the state's assertions are to be believed, Mr. Spann, while carrying a firearm and harboring an intent to shoot Mr. McBeth, just coincidentally happened upon Mr. Klasko and Ms. Wersal, who simultaneously knew nothing about his intent or the fact he had a firearm, and blindly followed his directions to drive toward a group of people on the street," Polling said.
The defense attorney noted the scene was dark at the time and said surveillance video introduced by the prosecution was inconclusive. As for the alleged Christmas Eve confrontation, she wrote that "the evidence fails to support that Mr. Spann was engaging in a dispute with anyone."
"The evidence proffered by the state supports the conclusion that an individual associated with the residence at 2408 Third Ave. E. exited that residence and shot Mr. McBeth," Polling argued. "That individual then returned to the house."
Sullivan did not acknowledge the defense's belated closing argument in delivering her verdict.
Spann remains in the St. Louis County Jail. A formal sentencing date is likely to be scheduled in the coming days.
This story was updated at 11:09 a.m. Sept. 21, with a quote from St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Fralich. It was originally posted at 10:12 a.m. Sept. 21.