Tearful testimony highlights second day of Huguenot High graduation shooting trial

Joe Dodson/Courthouse News Service | 2/29/2024, 6 p.m.
Loved ones and police officers gave jurors a clearer picture on Tuesday of a fatal shooting that occurred after a ...
Mr. Jackson

Loved ones and police officers gave jurors a clearer picture on Tuesday of a fatal shooting that occurred after a 2023 Virginia high school graduation ceremony on day two of the shooter’s trial.

State prosecutors aim to convict Amari Pollard of the first degree murder of 18-year-old Shawn Jackson, who was killed moments after his high school graduation.

The prosecution said Mr. Pollard, 20, shot Mr. Jackson six times outside of Huguenot High School’s graduation on June 6, 2023. Mr. Jackson’s friends returned fire, but the bullets meant for Mr. Pollard pierced bystanders watching the scene unfold.

“I seen my little brother on the ground looking at me but not looking at me,” Mr. Jackson’s sister Destiny told the jury. “I fell to the ground and cried.”

Mr. Jackson’s relatives, close friends and police officers testified for the prosecution, who are hoping to convince the jury that Mr. Pollard premeditated his killing of Mr. Jackson. The defense instead claims Mr. Jackson cornered Mr. Pollard and threatened him, leaving him no choice but to shoot in self-defense.

The trial now revolves around the series of events leading up to the shooting and the interactions Mr. Pollard had with police in the aftermath. The defense argues that Mr. Jackson, his stepfather, Renzo Smith — who died in the crossfire — and Mr. Jackson’s friends antagonized Mr. Pollard in a park directly across the street from the graduation venue, leaving Mr. Pollard scared for his life.

Mr. Jackson’s mother, Tameeka Jackson-Smith, cried on the stand as she recounted the moment she saw her husband and son on the pavement and heard retaliatory shots fired in Mr. Pollard’s direction. A car hit Ms. Jackson-Smith’s 9-year-old daughter when she attempted to run away from the gunfire, leaving her in a wheelchair for over a month.

“I seen him shoot my son in the goddamn head twice,” Ms. Jackson-Smith said of the chaotic scene. “If you are going to shoot someone else, just shoot me.”

Mr. Pollard, who attended the ceremony to see his cousin graduate, purportedly had bad blood with Mr. Jackson and his friends. The exact reason for the beef is unknown, but Mr. Jackson’s close friend Jamon Flowers testified Tuesday that Mr. Pollard had poked fun at Mr. Flowers on Instagram for being shot on his way to his bus stop in September 2022.

After Mr. Jackson walked the stage but before the ceremony ended, Mr. Smith, several of Mr. Jackson’s friends and Mr. Pollard all separately retrieved firearms from their cars. Mr. Jackson’s friends told the jury they grabbed their guns because they had recently been shot and wanted extra protection in the large crowd gathering after the ceremony. The defense argued that the real reason for retrieving the guns was to kill Mr. Pollard after realizing he was at the ceremony.

Mr. Pollard

Mr. Pollard

What is undisputed is that Mr. Jackson — surrounded by his friends and Mr. Smith — and Mr. Pollard — surrounded by his cousin and family — had an oral argument that intensified before Mr. Pollard pulled out his gun and shot Mr. Jackson.

Mr. Flowers and Mr. Smith attempted to shoot Mr. Pollard but ended up wounding five others as he ran from the scene. The parties dispute who threatened whom in the lead-up.

“Shawn was walking away from the situation,” Mr. Flowers said. “He didn’t have the chance to run.”

The defense put a lot of weight into Mr. Pollard’s behavior after the shooting as proof that he acted in self-defense. They showed a video of Mr. Pollard running to a nearby parking deck, where he suffered a visual panic attack while pleading for help.

Mr. Pollard first interacted with Virginia Commonwealth University safety ambassador Denise Smith, an unarmed member of the university police department. The video shows Mr. Pollard’s gun dropping from his pocket as he verbalizes that Mr. Jackson’s friends are trying to kill him.

Ms. Smith, unaware of Mr. Pollard’s involvement at that time, tried to keep him away from the gun, but video showed Mr. Pollard — in between vocalizing his fear of going to jail for life and apologizing — grabbing the weapon from the ground and attempting suicide.

The gun was out of bullets.

“I’m about to go to jail for life,” bodycam footage shows Mr. Pollard saying before pulling the trigger. “I’m sorry, I thought they was gonna kill me.”

VCU Police Officer David Pullman then arrived and approached a visibly distraught

Mr. Pollard, who hugged Officer Pullman. Bodycam footage showed Mr. Pollard claiming he would turn himself in to the police but that he needed to leave the area. Officer Pullman, also unaware of Mr. Pollard’s full involvement, handcuffed Mr. Pollard and hid him in a stairwell for his safety.

Though the defense portrayed Mr. Pollard as someone scared for their life, the prosecution argued that Mr. Pollard was attempting to escape from the scene when he ran to the parking deck rather than turning himself in. Bodycam footage also showed Mr. Pollard trying to walk away from the authorities and find his car multiple times in the aftermath of the shooting.

Other witnesses included Mr. Jackson’s girlfriend, two of his close friends who attended the graduation and Jada Silver, an ex-girlfriend of Mr. Pollard’s friend who was with Mr. Pollard throughout the day.

The ex-girlfriend, Ms. Silver, told the jury that Mr. Jackson approached Mr. Pollard in the lead-up, while Mr. Flower said the opposite was true.

The FBI produced a 90-minute video compiling responding officers’ body cam footage and surveillance tape. The prosecutors walked the jury through the video evidence Wednesday.

Only a couple of witnesses are left to testify.