Court rejects challenge to Hibbing murder

The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed a premeditated murder conviction that has Jerome Spann serving life without parole.

Jerome Dionte Spann

HIBBING — The Minnesota Supreme Court has affirmed a man's guilty verdict in a fatal shooting on Christmas Day 2018.

The high court on Wednesday denied an appeal from Jerome Dionte Spann, 33, who sought to overturn his premeditated first-degree murder conviction for the Hibbing killing of Jeryel "Jason" Octavious McBeth, 34.

As family members honored victim Jeryel McBeth, his killer declined to address the court before receiving the automatic sentence for premeditated murder.

The justices concluded that Judge Rachel Sullivan properly applied the law regarding the testimony of two people who accompanied Spann to and from the shooting scene. Sullivan found Spann guilty in September 2021 after he waived his right to a jury and proceeded with a bench trial that included testimony from 19 witnesses.

And while the Supreme Court did send the case back to Sullivan for reconsideration of a second-degree assault conviction, the decision upholding the premeditated murder count effectively ensures that Spann will spend the rest of his life in prison.

According to trial testimony and court documents, Spann was walking along a road on the night of Dec. 25, 2018, when he was picked by Kyshaun Klasko and Jenna Wersal, both then 18. Klasko had known Spann for about six weeks, while Wersal had never met him.


Spann reportedly asked for a ride and directed them to a house about four blocks away, 2408 Third Ave. E. When they arrived, according to testimony, Spann got out, approached a group, and asked McBeth, "What up now, Jason?"

The defendant then pulled a gun out of his waistband and fired five shots — three striking McBeth and another grazing 25-year-old Jamien Stuckey — before he gave chase to the group, "aiming the gun like he was going to continue to fire," according to the Supreme Court opinion.

Testimony indicated Spann then fled in the car with Klasko and Wersal, going to a nearby apartment building. He reportedly asked for a ride to the Twin Cities to "get away." They refused but did drive him to another property in Hibbing and never called 911. Spann was arrested three days later in St. Paul.

A St. Louis County grand jury later indicted Spann for premeditated murder, hearing testimony from Klasko and Wersal. Both were charged with aiding and offender and received plea agreements that included cooperation in Spann's prosecution.

Defense attorneys argued in pretrial proceedings, closing arguments and on appeal that the co-defendants' statements could not be considered reliable because they had been charged as accomplices. Under Minnesota law, a conviction cannot be based solely on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice.

However, Sullivan noted that grand jurors were made aware of their plea agreements, and she wrote in her verdict that there were at least three credible witnesses who identified Spann as the shooter.

Associate Justice Natalie Hudson, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, agreed that Klasko and Wersal did not meet the legal definition of "accomplices." Their presence at the scene and actions to aid his escape "does not transform them into accomplices," she wrote.

"At most, the above-described facts establish that (they) played an unknowing role when they drove Spann four blocks to his car and demonstrated 'passive acquiescence' as Spann fired the five gunshots," Hudson wrote in the 17-page opinion. "In this case, there was no evidence that (Klasko) and (Wersal) knew that Spann would fight McBeth, kill McBeth, or commit any crime at all."


The court also rejected Spann's argument that he should have been allowed to introduce evidence of Klasko's guilty pleas in April 2021 to charges of felon in possession of a firearm and theft of a firearm. Defense attorneys contended that pleas established that Klasko lied in a 2018 police interview following McBeth's murder when he said he "never has guns" and "doesn't have anything to do with guns."

More than three years after Deshon Bonnell was sentenced for the killing of Joshua Lavalley, the state's highest court voided a plea agreement and said he is entitled to trial.

However, the court noted that those charges were only filed in November 2020 — nearly two years after McBeth's killing.

"From this evidence, it is entirely possible to infer that (Klasko) did not possess a firearm in 2018, first began possessing a firearm in 2019, and was caught in 2020," Hudson wrote. "Under this series of events, (Klasko's) 2018 statement to police would have been truthful."

Spann in November 2021 received an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole and remains at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City.

The Supreme Court did direct Sullivan to reconsider a second-degree assault conviction, finding that the judge misapplied the law regarding Spann's conduct in allegedly pointing the firearm at a witness, Usavious Stuckey. Spann received a three-year sentence on that charge, but it was concurrent to the murder conviction and has no effect on his life term.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
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