Newport News judge sentences two post office carriers to 39 years in slaying

Daily Press/TNS

A Newport News judge on Friday called two former U.S. Postal Service carriers “equally culpable” in the slaying of another carrier’s husband last year, sentencing them each to 39 years behind bars.

Circuit Court Judge Gary Mills ordered identical sentences for Tashara Jackson and Jeremy Pettway in the April 2021 killing of Salahud-Din “Sal” Shabazz at his home. Juries found them guilty in March and April, respectively, in the first-degree murder conspiracy case.

“There is zero doubt as to either of your guilt — absolutely none,” Mills said, calling the case “the strongest circumstantial case” he’s seen in 19 years as a judge.

Shabazz, a father of five, played football in high school and junior college, served four years in the Army and was working as a warehouse forklift operator when he was killed.

According to trial evidence, the slaying stemmed from a long-running feud Jackson had with Shabazz’s wife, mail carrier Jacqueline “Jacquie” Shabazz. There were several workplace issues between the women, with Jacquie Shabazz acknowledging at trial that she had been having an extramarital relationship with a carrier whose wife was close friends with Jackson.

A string of incidents between the two women escalated in early 2021, when Jackson and Jacquie Shabazz exchanged words outside a Newport News nail salon, then vandalized each other’s cars. That led to a physical confrontation outside a Newport News restaurant, with Sal Shabazz pointing a Taser at others to keep them at bay.

Prosecutors said Jackson picked up Pettway later that night and drove to the Shabazzes’ Menchville home to retaliate for the restaurant fight. Sal, home alone while his wife and kids stayed at a local hotel for their safety, was shot to death when he answered the door.

Investigators combined cellphone GPS data, street cameras and surveillance footage to track Jackson’s and Pettway’s movements, and prosecutors said text messages also incriminated the pair.

Mills told Jackson that while Pettway was the triggerman, she orchestrated it.

“You caused this,” he told her. “There’s no way in the world (Pettway) would have done this, but for your encouragement.”

Neither had criminal records, and Pettway served 20 years in the Marines before an honorable discharge. Pettway’s lawyer, James Ellenson, contended that “there’s no doubt” 48 months of service in Iraq “had some influence on why this man sits here,” though prosecutor Andrea Booden said there’s no evidence of that.

Jackson, 31, and Pettway, 42, faced up to life in prison. Booden asked for at least 35 to 40 years, though she suggested Mills could go higher as the Shabazz’s family wanted. Ellenson and Jackson’s attorney, Timothy Clancy, asked for sentences within the discretionary guidelines of 23 to 39 years.

“I wanted life without parole, but we’ll take 39 years,” said Shabazz’s mother, 64-year-old Martha Shabazz of Raleigh, North Carolina. “But it’s never going to bring Sal back.”

His sister, Aesha Shabazz, 45, also wanted the max, but found it noteworthy that 39 years “is the exact age my brother was” when he died.

In the days after the shooting, Booden said, Jackson and Pettway interspersed texts referencing the incident with chatter “about the music they were listening to ... as if what they had done was nothing.”

“It was cold and calculated,” Booden said. “It was one of the most egregious premeditated murders I have ever seen.”

Neither defendant spoke at the hearing, with both planning to appeal the verdicts.

Jacquie Shabazz testified at the hearing by way of a remote camera hookup from Minnesota — calling her husband the family’s “hero” and “backbone.” She talked about how the couple’s four daughters miss their father, his text messages and his Saturday morning breakfasts for the family.

Ellenson, alluding to Jacquie Shabazz’s affair and the workplace feud, asked her if she had “any shame or remorse or regret” for what happened. “The chutzpah to come in now and say all this is an affront to the defendant,” he said.

Booden quickly objected, calling Ellenson’s question “an affront to the family.” Mills ruled that Shabazz didn’t have to answer the question.

Family members testified to the immense loss in the Shabazz family.

Martha Shabazz said she missed the daily talks she used to have with her son every morning on her way to work.

“Either he’ll call me, or I’ll call him,” she said. “Now I’ve lost my son, and for what? ... I just barely exist. Sometimes I can’t even function when I get up in the morning.”

One of Sal’s brothers, Muhammed Shabazz, 44, said Sal would talk to people about what they were interested in — such as politics with him and football with another brother. “Clearly this dude had a lot of time on his hands to talk to so many people every day,” he quipped.

Muhammed said he now often listens to a hip-hop album the brothers made together in 2004.

Aesha Shabazz, 45, called her brother kind and brilliant and “a blessed gift” to the family. “He was a gifted athlete, a truth seeker, a renegade and a human GPS,” she said. “He navigated his life with grace and intellect, with love and devotion to his family and his friends.”

Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749,