Man sentenced after pleading guilty to murder of teen outside Virginia graduation ceremony

A man was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to opening fire outside a Virginia high school graduation ceremony and killing a graduate last year, the prosecutor told CNN.

Amari Pollard pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony in the murder of Shawn Jackson on Thursday, Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette Wallace McEachin told CNN by email Friday.

Jackson, 18, and his stepfather Renzo Smith, 36, were shot and killed outside Richmond’s Altria Theater after the Huguenot High School graduation ceremony in June 2023, where hundreds of graduates and guests had gathered.

The attack was targeted, as Pollard, then 19, had an ongoing dispute with Jackson, police said at the time.

“I think there was an interaction, and then it appears that the suspect went to his car to retrieve the gun and then returned,” Police Chief Rick Edwards said in June 2023. The shooting happened just before 5:15 p.m., and responding officers indicated there was a barrage of gunfire that stopped quickly.

Chaos emerged after the gunfire began, Edwards added.

Amari Pollard - Richmond Police Department
Amari Pollard - Richmond Police Department

“People were having panic attacks, falling on the ground screaming,” Edwards said. “Some people fell. One child was hit by a car.”

The child hit by a car was Jackson’s 9-year-old sister, who had minor injuries from the incident. The shooting left five others injured, police said at the time.

“Something that was so special and supposed to be a happy moment for all of us ended as a tragedy,” Datrell Glover, Jackson’s aunt, said at the time.

Jackson loved music and designated himself the DJ at family events, Glover told CNN. He hoped to be a music producer.

Family members described Jackson and Smith as loving, family-oriented men. Glover said Jackson had “a smile that could light up a whole room.”

CNN reached out to Pollard’s attorney after the sentencing but has not yet heard back.

No one has been charged in the murder of Smith yet, McEachin told CNN.

Pollard was sentenced to a total of 43 years in prison, she said. The judge sentenced him to 40 years for the murder charge and three years for the use of a firearm, but then suspended 18 years of the murder sentence, McEachin said.

“He has an active sentence of 25 years imprisonment,” McEachin added.

“I am relieved and happy for the family. I have my co-counsel here… and the three of us got to know the family and the suffering that they had been going through for the past eight months, and so we are happy and relieved for them for this outcome,” McEachin said. “We spoke with Tameeka Jackson-Smith, the mom and widow… and she agreed with this outcome.”

CNN’s Braden Walker, Nouran Salahieh and Lauren Mascarenhas contributed to this report.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at