DULUTH – The question was not whether Jamal Jackson shot Scott Pennington in the face and killed him. It was why.
A jury on Tuesday dismissed claims of self-defense when it convicted Jackson of second-degree murder in the September 2018 killing on a street in downtown Duluth.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not dispute the fact that Jackson killed Pennington, as both gave their closing arguments Tuesday morning at the St. Louis County Courthouse. After five days of testimony, they handed the case to the jury to decide whether Jackson justifiably acted in self-defense.
After less than three hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a guilty verdict. Jackson will be held without bail until his sentencing Nov. 26. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison.
Pennington’s friends and family wept after hearing the verdict.
About 1 a.m. on Sept. 1, Jackson shot Pennington on the sidewalk across the street from a bar both had visited on W. 1st Street, court documents show.
Prosecutors called several witnesses who said they did not see or hear any fighting before the shooting.
“[Jackson’s] basic claim is that on the night of the homicide, he had been hearing rumors that some people had ill will toward him. He walked up to a car, the victim approached him, blew smoke in his face, flicked a cigarette at him, disrespected him or threatened him, and so as a result, defendant shot him in the face, killing him,” according to a court filing from prosecutors.
Jackson’s public defender, Laura Zimm, said in court that Jackson feared for his life and had no other option.
“He believed they had put a hit on him,” she said, and Jackson testified that Pennington had reached toward his hip and told him to move away “or I’ll kill you.”
Assistant St. Louis County attorney Jon Holets said Tuesday that a self-defense argument includes a “duty to retreat.” In his closing remarks Holets walked backward, his hands in the shape of a gun, showing jurors what he said Jackson should have done.
“Self-defense is not an excuse. Self-defense requires us to retreat … that’s true bravery,” Holets said. “Hiding behind a gun, then hiding behind justified self-defense: That’s the opposite.”