HIBBING — They brought him into the St. Louis County District Court in Hibbing on Thursday morning, his ankles and wrists shackled.
Jerome Dionte Spann, 30 years old and charged with murder, had been here before. For more than one year, he’s been sitting in the St. Louis County Jail in Duluth.
This week, his defense attorney Elizabeth Ann Polling told District Judge Rachel C. Sullivan that she needed more time to review portions of grand jury testimony recorded last September that led to her client being charged with first-degree premeditated murder in the fatal shooting of Jeryel Octavious McBeth and shooting injury of Jamien Quartez Stuckey in Hibbing on Dec. 25, 2018.
Polling asked the judge for a continued omnibus hearing and a scheduled conference to discuss the possibility of her filing motions related to grand jury testimony. Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Stacey Sundquist voiced no objections. And after hearing that Spann continued to wave his timelines, Judge Sullivan set the conference for Feb. 10 and the continued omnibus hearing for Feb. 20 — the case pushed again as both Spann, the shooting victims and their families wait for what’s to come.
It was Christmas, a Tuesday night in 2018 when someone exited an SUV and shot 34-year-old McBeth three times, piercing the left side of his chest, right shoulder and right forearm. He was later pronounced dead at Fairview Range Medical Center.
The fatal shooting happened outside of a residence at 2408 Third Ave. E. in Hibbing. Stuckey, then 25, also took a bullet here, but he was treated at the hospital and released without life-threatening injuries.
The following day, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension identified Spann as the gunman and notified the media that he might be on the run down in the Twin Cities metro area. The BCA reported that Spann, described as a 6 foot, 1 inch tall, 210 pound African American male with brown hair and brown eyes, fled the scene in Hibbing in a vehicle with an unidentified African American male and the pair “may have traveled to St. Paul, where Spann has relatives.” The agency cautioned that Spann should be considered armed and dangerous, and that citizens should not approach him, but rather call 911 or the Hibbing Police Department with information on his whereabouts.
(In 2013, Spann was convicted of a gross misdemeanor count of carrying or possessing a firearm without a permit in Ramsey County, according to criminal history search on the BCA. He was convicted of a similar charge in Hennepin County in 2017.)
That Friday, BCA agents and St. Paul Police officers arrested Spann at a home located at 34 Sycamore St. E. in the State Capital and then booked him into the Ramsey County Jail on suspiction of murder and other possible charges. At the time, the Hibbing Police told the media that Spann knew both McBeth and Stuckey. “This was not a random thing,” HPD Sgt. Jeffrey Ronchetti told the Hibbing Daily Tribune. “These were individuals that knew each other.”
New Years Eve fell on the following Monday, and Spann made his initial appearance in the St. Louis County District Court in Hibbing and spent his first night with a $500,000 bail at the County Jail down in Duluth.
Spann had been facing 40 years in prison after pleading not guilty to initial charges of intentional second-degree murder and second-degree assault in June 2019.
Two months later, in August, a grand jury privately met in the St. Louis County District Court in Hibbing and charged Spann with first-degree murder and the possibility of a life sentence without parole, if convicted. (In Minnesota, a grand jury is a group of 16 random individuals who privately examine evidence, listen to testimony conducted by prosecutors and ask witnesses additional questions in order to decide whether there exists enough evidence to indict, or charge someone with a crime. Under state law, the grand jury make decisions on felony cases which require a life sentence.)
That was not the first time of the year the St. Louis County’s Attorney’s Office pursued first-degree murder charges after a grand jury indictment. In February 2019, a grand jury in Hibbing indicted Deshon Israel Bonnell and Bailey Bodell French, both white teenagers from Hibbing, on two counts each of first-degree murder charges for allegedly murdering 33-year-old Joshua Robert Lavalley on the Mesabi Trail in Hibbing.
At the time, Bonnell, 18, and his then girlfriend, French, 17, had initially faced charges of second-degree murder. French was being tried in juvenile court as the county attorney’s office pursued an adult certification study. The grand jury’s indictment turned her case into an adult matter. Bonnell has since been convicted and is serving a life sentence in prison with the possibility of parole. French is scheduled to appear in court for a contested omnibus hearing on Feb. 10.
For Spann, his September involved the state of Minnesota moving to merge the original complaint with the recent grand jury indictment. With the merger, prosecutors pursued the case on all three charges. Spann now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, if convicted of the first-degree murder count, and also faces 40 years in prison for second-degree murder and second-degree assault.
Then a motion for the grand jury transcript. Since neither Spann or his defense attorney, Polling, attended the grand jury proceedings, they requested the court to disclose the records to them “upon a showing of good cause, or on a showing that grounds may exist to dismiss the indictment because of matters occurring before the grand jury,” Polling wrote in the motion filed on Sept. 12, 2019. “...Grounds may exist to dismiss the indictment due to irregularities in the grand jury process,” including failure on the judge or prosecutor to follow state statute, a biased juror, when admissible evidence is insufficient to establish the offense charged, among a host of other reasons.
Polling argued that disclosure had been appropriate in the case because the defense has “a particularized need to view the record” and “the record may support a motion to dismiss the indictment,” she wrote in the motion. “The particularized need derives from the defense’s inability to receive the information from any other source, and the injustice that would result if the State is allowed to proceed with its prosecution of Mr. Spann based on a potentially tainted grand jury proceeding.”
Polling continued, “Moreover, in the event that the type of irregularities described in the [people who provided testimony] occurred during the grand jury proceedings in this case, grounds may exist to support a motion to dismiss.”
Later that month, Sunquist and Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Fralich filed a motion in opposition to Polling’s request for the non-testimonial portions of the grand jury transcript, according to their motion filed on Sept. 27, 2019. But the attorneys added that the defense was “entitled to the testimonial portions of the transcript.”
In October 2019, Judge Sullivan found that since “the state does not oppose disclosure and disclosure is appropriate,” a transcript of the testimonial portions of the grand jury proceedings would be provided to the defense. The copies are for litigation only and aren’t available to the media.