Man who murdered student minutes after he graduated jailed for at least 25 years

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A man who shot and killed a teenage student at a high school graduation ceremony in Virginia after a long-running feud between the pair will serve 25 years in prison for the murder.

Amari Pollard, 20, pled guilty to two charges on Thursday over the shooting during the Huguenot High School graduation ceremony in Richmond, Virginia, in June 2023.

He pled guilty to charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, according to Richmond City Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachinn, per WRIC.

Pollard was sentenced to 43 years in jail, with 18 years suspended, for the killing of 18-year-old Shawn Jackson, whose step-father, 36-year-old Lorenzo Smith, was also fatally shot.

While Pollard was initially charged with the death of Smith, prosecutors later dropped the charges after an investigation, citing a lack of evidence to try him, the Associated Press reported.

Pollard testified that he shot Jackson because he was scared for his life, according to the outlet. He claimed he was running away from him when he heard someone say, “Shoot him,” leading to Pollard firing his gun.

However, prosecutors reportedly challenged this statement and referred to surveillance video, which they say captured Pollard shooting at Jackson from behind, adding that the victim was shot a total of six times.

The judge ultimately ruled that there was not enough evidence for a self-defence claim.

"This was a murder that happened at a public high school graduation, in the middle of the summer, in the middle of the afternoon, with hundreds of people around," Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin said to reporters after the guilty plea.

“The defendant had so little regard for completely innocent bystanders.”

The shooting, which occurred on 6 June 2023, happened after a graduation ceremony outside Richmond’s Altria Theatre on the outskirts of Virginia Commonwealth University.

Amari Pollard has pled guilty to two charges (Richmond Police Department)
Amari Pollard has pled guilty to two charges (Richmond Police Department)

The Richmond Police Department told The Independent at the time in a statement that detectives had determined the shootings were not a random act but resulted from an ongoing dispute between Pollard and Jackson.

Pollard was detained by Virginia Commonwealth University security after trying to flee from the scene on foot, according to police at the time.

Richmond Police Department interim chief Rick Edwards said in a press conference last year that the suspect and the victim had a long-running dispute.

“They knew each other, this was a dispute that we’re hearing took place over the course of over a year,” Mr Edwards said.

Pollard had apparently attended the graduation before getting into an exchange with Jackson.

The police chief said the two had an interaction in which “words were exchanged” that led to the violent attack.

“I wouldn’t say [Pollard] was waiting for [Jackson]. I think there was an interaction, and then it appears the suspect went to his car to retrieve the gun and return,” Mr Edwards added at the conference.

A report prepared by a law firm for the Richmond Public Schools and released in January this year said that Jackson was kept at home from school during the school year because of issues surrounding his security and safety.

Richmond Public Schools released a statement following the trial conclusion: “June 6 was intended to be a joyful day for Richmond graduates. Instead, it ended in a senseless tragedy that took two lives and destroyed countless others. We continue to mourn the loss of Shawn Jackson and his step-father Lorenzo Smith, and pray that Mrs. Jackson-Smith finds some closure and peace with the conclusion of the trial.”