Hibbing man sentenced to life without parole in fatal Christmas shooting
As family members honored victim Jeryel McBeth, his killer declined to address the court before receiving the automatic sentence for premeditated murder.
HIBBING, Minn. — Jeryel Octavious McBeth's murder came on Christmas Day 2018, ripping apart multiple families in the process.
For some, including Alexanderia Pflepsen-Warneke, it was especially difficult. She was raised with the perpetrator, Jerome Dionte Spann, in St. Paul. She was in a relationship with McBeth's nephew, who himself narrowly avoided serious injury or death in the shooting. And her sister is the mother of Spann's children.
Nearly three years later, time has seemingly done little to heal her family's wounds, as Pflepsen-Warneke described the "new normal" of living with the mental and emotional scars of Dec. 25, 2018.
"If I could ever get over being mad as hell, I think I could find peace in it," she told a judge Tuesday, Nov. 23. "The least he could do is apologize."
But those gathered in the Hibbing, Minnesota, courtroom would receive no such apology from Spann. He declined to speak before receiving a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Spann, 32, was found guilty in September of premeditated first-degree murder in the killing of McBeth, 34, resulting in the automatic sentence when he appeared Tuesday.
The verdict and sentence were handed down by Judge Rachel Sullivan, who additionally found Spann guilty of intentional second-degree murder and second-degree assault after the defendant waived his right to jury at a three-day trial in August.
Multiple family members and supporters attended the sentencing, but only Pflepsen-Warneke offered a brief, in-person statement. Jamie Kimball, the mother of McBeth's 17-year-old son, submitted a letter in which she described how the defendant "messed up so many lives."
"Jerome allowed the devil to run his life and ruin ours," Kimball wrote in the statement that was read aloud. "I pray and hope that the family and I can get a little justice from knowing Jerome will never step outside prison walls again, though I doubt that will ever be enough."
With the hearing taking place two days before Thanksgiving and just a month shy of the murder's three-year anniversary, St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Fralich described how the holiday season will never again be the same for the families of both McBeth and Spann.
"Two families were destroyed in minutes by Jerome Spann's premeditated and calculated decision to take a life," she said. "Every single action that night has had a ripple effect beyond comprehension."
Spann did not display any visible emotion as Sullivan asked him to stand to formally receive his sentence.
"I hope you can find some purpose, find some peace," the judge told him, "but also take into consideration the deep impact of your decisions."
Fralich said in a written closing argument that Spann exited an SUV and approached a group outside 2408 Third Ave. E. in Hibbing just after 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 25, 2018, asking, "What up now, Jason?" as he pulled out a gun and fired five shots.
McBeth, who 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.
Additionally, she said two cooperating codefendants, Jenna Wersal and Kyshaun Klasko, testified to being in the SUV with Spann, with Klasko following him out and foot and observing him fire five shots into the crowd before running back to the car.
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 attorney Elizabeth Polling had focused her argument on the reliability of the four alleged eyewitnesses to the crime and pointed to alleged inconsistencies in their accounts. She additionally said the scene was dark at the time and claimed "the evidence fails to support that Mr. Spann was engaging in a dispute with anyone."
Sullivan initially said she would render her verdict without a closing argument from the defense, but the judge later indicated that she did read the filing submitted by Polling several days after the court's deadline.
In a subsequent, 42-page analysis, the judge noted that three "credible" witnesses directly identified Spann as the shooter, adding that: "The proven existence of planning activity, along with the evidence of motive and the nature of the killing, are consistent with premeditated, intentional murder."
Spann will have 90 days to file an appeal, with first-degree murder convictions going straight to the Minnesota Supreme Court.