Richmond man Amari Pollard pleads guilty in Graduation Day shooting

Posted at 10:29 AM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-29 17:11:25-05

BREAKING: Amari Pollard pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony related to the Graduation Day shooting death of Shawn Jackson.

Pollard, 20, was sentenced to 25 years of active prison time for the murder which made national headlines in June 2023.

Pollard said, "I love y'all' to his family as he was taken from the courtroom.

This is a developing story.

WATCH: Commonwealth’s attorney 'happy and relieved' by plea deal in Graduation Day shooting

Commonwealth’s attorney 'happy and relieved' by plea deal in Richmond Graduation Day shooting

RICHMOND, Va. -- Amari Pollard is on trial this week for his alleged role in the June 2023 deadly shooting outside the Altria Theater in Richmond, Virginia, following the Huguenot High School graduation.

Pollard is charged with first-degree murder in the shooting that resulted in the deaths of graduate Shawn Jackson and his stepfather Renzo Smith.

LISTEN: WHAT WE KNOW A podcast previewing the Amari Pollard Trial

Refresh this post throughout the week for updates on this developing story.

Richmond judge throws out Pollard's claim on self-defense in Graduation Day shooting trial

Day 4 - Thursday, February 29

Amari Pollard's defense team's argument that Pollard shot Shawn Jackson in self-defense started to unravel Thursday morning.

The defense asked Richmond Judge Marchant to strike the case against Pollard arguing that the Commonwealth did not have enough proof for the first-degree murder charge. They said first-degree required premeditation, which, they argued there was no evidence. They said Jackson and his friends posed “an imminent threat of death” to Pollard “with the ability to carry it out” and reiterated that Jackson told Pollard he was going to “crush” him.

Judge Marchant disagreed and emphasized that three witnesses testified that Jackson was walking away when Pollard shot him. He said Jackson himself was not armed and the other threats against Pollard came from Jackson's friends, not Jackson himself.

Judge Marchant said that, per the law, premeditation can be formed within just a second before carrying out a fatal act and that verbal threats alone were not enough to justify the deadly use of force.

He rejected the defense’s motions to strike the case and also barred them from arguing self-defense.

He told defense attorneys, “You can’t justify shooting an unarmed victim who was walking away because other people were brawling” and bluntly stated, “I don’t agree with your conclusion of the evidence.”

Thursday's legal arguments about the case did not happen in the presence of the jury, so they don’t know any of the comments that the judge made about the case.

What we learned from the 90-minute Graduation Day shooting video

Day 3 - Wednesday, February 28

The big focus on Day 3 of the Amari Pollard murder trial was a 90-minute spliced video that depicted what happened around the Altria Theater in Richmond on June 6, 2023. The prosecution believes the video proves its position that Pollard maliciously and intentionally killed Huguenot High School graduate Shawn Jackson shortly after the graduation ceremony. The defense believes the video proves Pollard acted in self-defense because Jackson and his friends threatened Pollard’s life.

Based on what we heard in court, the prosecution paid special attention to where Pollard was in relation to Jackson. A detective who testified said Pollard looked to be behind Jackson based on the video.

Then we heard from two investigators who looked over firearms evidence. It appeared four guns were fired that day and the video showed Shawn Jackson's clothing that day that had multiple bullet holes, but it was unclear where the bullets entered or exited Jackson. Police could only tie two bullets found in Jackson's body to Pollard's gun.

The video also included Pollard's interview with detectives. Pollard talked about existing issues between friend groups. He said one of his friends was killed in the past and that created drama between the two groups. He then said he didn't want to go to the graduation, but went because his cousin was graduating.

He said he saw one of Jackson's friends, who he said was tied to his friend's death, and that's what prompted him to get his gun. He then said after the graduation once everyone was in Monroe Park, Jackson's friends started antagonizing his group of friends, saying they were going to "crush him." Around the same time, he said, one of Jackson's friends reached for a backpack. He said that was when he pulled out his gun and fired. He said he didn't know if he shot first because other gunshots rang out.
He then ran. He does admit to believing he may have shot Jackson and that he might have hit him in the back.

A ballistics expert testified that bullets found in Renzo Smith's body could not be tied to Pollard's gun.

Day 2 Revelations:

3 big takeaways from Tuesday's Graduation Day shooting testimony in Richmond

  • VCU Police Safety Ambassador Denise Smith said she encountered Amari Pollard after the shooting. She said she saw Pollard drop a gun only to pick it back up, put it to his head, and pull the trigger. The gun did not fire.
  • Friends of deceased shooting victim Shawn Jackson admitted to having guns with them on June 6. One friend admitted to firing shots during the chaos but said he only began shooting after Pollard shot Jackson.
  • Shawn Jackson's mother said Shawn and Amari Pollard played sports together and were childhood friends.

Scroll down for a more detailed account of today's testimony

Prosecution Witness: VCU Police Officer Pulliam - Tuesday, February 27

  • Pulliam was working four or five blocks away from the shooting 
  • Pulliam heard gunfire and ran toward Monroe Park 
  • Pulliam observed a Richmond Police Officer standing over a gun and was asked to stand over the gun 
  • Pulliam eventually met up with VCU Safety Ambassador Denise Smith
  • Pulliam saw Pollard hiding as Smith stated in her testimony, he checked Pollard after he came out with his hands up 
  • Pollard hugged Pulliam while he was getting a pat down 
  • Pollard said to the officer: “I had to protect myself” and he asked Pollard if he fired the gun and Pollard said, “Yes I did.” 
  • Pulliam brought Pollard to the stairwell where he was still very worried about being harmed
  • Pulliam handcuffed Pollard and brought him to the second level out of sight until back up arrived 

Defense cross-examination of Officer Pulliam:

  • Pulliam was unsure whose gun he was asked to stand over 
  • She said Pollard was freaking out and saying, “Please. I can’t stay here.” 
  • Said Pollard started to run after they had initially tried to escort him away; Pulliam said it seemed like Pollard was trying to run out of fear 
  • Pulliam said Pollrd said he would turn himself in to the police but that he “has to leave” 


  • Pulliam said he did not know Pollard had killed someone and didn’t know that others were injured 
  • Pulliam said he would have handcuffed Pollard faster had he known 

Prosecution Witness: Denise Smith, Safety Ambassador with VCU Police - Tuesday, February 27

  • Smith had a body-worn camera while working the Laurel Street parking deck on June 6
  • “I heard gunshots, weird the way it sounded; saw everyone running.”
  • Amari Pollard ran toward Smith at about 5:14 p.m.
  • A weapon fell out of his sweatshirt 
  • Pollard told Smith "They’re going to shoot my grandmother”
  • Smith said Pollard seemed like the “average scared citizen” 
  • Pollard went to pick up the fallen gun, but Smith told him not to do that
  • Pollard started walking off the parking deck, Smith asked him to stay put 
  • Pollard picked up the gun, put it to his head, and pulled the trigger
  • The gun clicked but did not fire  
  • Smith told Pollard to take cover behind a car because he was scared 
  • Smith stayed with the gun until it was secure
  • Two VCU Police Officers arrived and took the gun

Defense cross-examination of Denise Smith

  • Born-worn camera video showed Pollard saying, “I’m sorry.” 
  • The video showed Pollard lifting the gun to his head for a brief second and pulling the trigger
  • In the video, he said, “It’s over for me, they’re trying to kill me." 
  • The video showed Pollard following directions of VCU Police  

Prosecution Witness: Malachi Mann (Shawn Jackson's friend) Testimony - Tuesday, February 27

  • Shawn Jackson’s friend Malachi Mann said he drove himself to Shawn's graduation and parked next to the Altria Theater 
  • There he met with Shawn’s direct family; stepfather Renzo Smith and mother Tameeka Jackson-Smith
  • He also met with friends Dominique Fowler and Jamon Flowers
  • Mann said he left the ceremony early and walked to the parking garage with Renzo Smith, Fowler, and Flowers 
  • Once outside he smoked and retrieved a gun
  • He said he retrieved the gun for "no purpose" other than "his safety” due to the number of people in the area
  • He said he'd been shot the previous month 
  • He said he put the gun in his waistband, walked back to the Altria Theater by himself, and saw Amari Pollard 
  • He said they walked past each other with a “head nod” and a “what’s up”
  • He said he walked to the front of Altria Theater and eventually into Monroe Park 
  • He said he started looking for Shawn Jackson as the crowd grew and started talking to people he knew there 
  • He said he heard multiple gunshots, but could not see who was shooting or where the shooting was coming from 
  • He said he ran and “possibly” pulled his gun out, but never fired the weapon 
  • He said he ran through Monroe Park, back toward his car in the parking garage, and drove to the corner where he saw caution tape 
  • He said he asked, “Where is everybody?” and was told Shawn Jackson had been shot 
  • Mann said he drove to VCU Health where Jackson had been taken 
  • When asked if he had pending criminal charges against him, Mann said yes and those charges had nothing to do with what happened June 6.

Defense cross-examination of Malachi Mann:

  • When asked why he retrieved a gun and replied for protection.
  • When asked if there was anything that made him feel unsafe, he said no but he had the gun “for his safety.”
  • Mann said he didn’t remember waving when he saw Pollard but the defense said Mann made a gesture to someone 
  • Mann said he doesn’t remember who was with him when he came back to Monroe Park
  • Mann said he knew Amari Pollard and said there was “possibly” bad blood between them 
  • Mann said he was not with Shawn Jackson when shots were fired


  • Mann said he had been shot before and was not expecting to get shot on June 6.
  • Mann said he was not expecting anything bad to happen on June 6
  • Mann said he had the gun on him when he passed Pollard but didn’t have a plan to look for Pollard or see him that day 
  • Mann said he was charged with unrelated crimes after Shawn Jackson was killed on June 6

Prosecution Witness: Tameeka Jackson-Smith (Shawn Jackson's mother) Testimony - Tuesday, February 27

  • Tameeka Jackson-Smith said her son knew suspect Amari Pollard. They played sports together and were childhood friends.
  • She said her husband, Renzo Smith, left the ceremony early with two of Shawn's friends returning to their cars to smoke
  • Recalling a phone conversation, she testified her husband said their guns inside their car were getting "hot" on a June afternoon, so he brought both weapons back to Monroe Park
  • Tameeka said he also had a firearm in her vehicle, the vehicle that they took to graduation 
  • Tameeka’s firearm was not in a gun lock, it was in the seat by the seatbelt buckle
  • Renzo had his gun in the vehicle in the same area
  • Renzo Smith kept both firearms when he came back to the Monroe Park area to be with the family 
  • The family had plans to go to a graveyard to see her deceased family after the graduation and then to dinner
  • She testified Shawn went into Monroe Park to say goodbye to friends and Renzo, his girlfriend, and her daughter went to go get him
  • With strong force and emotion, she testified she saw the suspect, Amari Pollard, walk up behind her son and shoot him twice in the back of the head
  • She said she also witnessed her daughter get hit by a car while running away from the bullets.
  • “I see a commotion and I see my husband try to block somebody. I see my son Shawn coming out me fast-paced; I see him shoot my son in the back of the head twice and then I hear a bump, my 9-year-old was hit by a car.”
  • “I don’t wish this on nobody, I promise you. I don’t wish this type of pain on nobody.” 
Graduation Day shooting vigil
Tameeka Jackson-Smith at a June 2023 vigil remembering her son and husband.

Defense cross-examination of Tameeka Jackson-Smith:

  • Defense: “It was [Renzo's] decision to walk back with the guns”
  • The defense said Renzo walked into the space with all of the children, all of these families, and he had two guns, one said to be sticking out of his pocket - Jackson-Smith doesn’t remember how much it may have been sticking out 
  • Tameeka Jackson-Smith said she saw Amari Pollard chasing her son
  • Tameeka Jackson-Smith said she only saw Pollard behind her son 
  • Tameeka Jackson-Smith said her son Shawn never touched a gun
Richmond man on trial for high school graduation murder feared for his life, defense says

Opening Statements - Monday, February 26

Prosecution opening statement in Amari Pollard trial

Statements made by the Prosecution with Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin, Mike Holloway, and Brook Petit:

  • McEachin started off her opening statements speaking to the emotion of Tameeka Jackson-Smith, who lost her son Shawn Jackson and husband Renzo Smith at the June 6 graduation shooting.
  • "Shawn, her only son, was killed in front of her."
  • McEachin reminded the jury that the only charge Amari Pollard faces is the killing of Shawn Jackson, whatever happened to other people that day is not for the jury's consideration.
  • Amari Pollard shot Shawn Jackson "six times" according to the prosecution.
  • The Commonwealth won't present evidence that Pollard and Jackson had any contact before June 6, despite there being known "bad blood" between Pollard and Jackson.
  • Video shows Jackson going into Monroe Park to say his goodbyes after graduation, Tameeka sends Renzo following his stepson, McEachin explains.
  • “The last time Tamika sees her son, he’s walking toward her and she sees Amari Pollard shoot them twice in the back.” 
  • McEachin said the family was not trying to congregate or speak with people at Monroe Park after the graduation: “He does not have time to engage.” 
  • In the video, McEachin says viewers will see Shawn Jackson carrying his diploma. "He is not going in there to look for someone He’s not looking for a fight. He was just going to say goodbye to others. He just didn’t realize it would be a final goodbye."
  • The defense will say Pollard was there to see a cousin graduate from high school. McEachin goes on to say that Pollard saw the graduation, went to his car, got a gun he'd brought from home, and then came back to the scene.
  • McEachin said a man known as Detective Crewell interviewed Pollard shortly after the shooting: "It was recorded, the defendant’s explanation will say he was 'on edge.' He will say that he didn’t see Shawn with a gun."
  • Jackson was hit with six gunshots according to the prosecution: twice on top of head, once in neck, and twice in the back.
  • McEachin goes on to say Pollard's gunshots "created chaos" in a crowd of innocent people.
  • "You will see Renzo try to fire back at the man who had just shot his stepson and two other friends of Shawn part of this 'beef' also respond to this active shooter situation."
  • McEachin said Pollard is seen to be very regretful afterward, but that he was frantic because people were shooting at him.
  • "He brought his gun from home and left in his car intentionally, went back intentionally, ran around the crowd trying to get the best shot intentionally."

Statements made by Amari Pollard's Defense:

Defense opening statement in Amari Pollard trial

  • Opening statement in response to the prosecution: "What was said to have happened, is not what happened, I want you to watch the video."
  • Pollard is said to have seen a member of the group, pack of people, that Jackson and his step father, Smith, are with.
  • The defense asks this question: How many guns are in that group? Five guns; Smith had two and Jackson's friends each had three.
  • "Renzo went back to the car to get guns, one was to give to Shawn."
  • Jackson, Smith, and the three boys are said to approach Pollard and his family. They walk up to the group.
  • "Pollard has the right, if he feels the need, to protect his family."
  • The defense claims, in total, five men targeted Pollard.
  • When you hear after the shooting is Pollard dropping his gun in the parking garage nearby: "He immediately says, 'They’re going to kill me, they’re going to kill me, help me.'"
  • "You will see the raw fear from what he says."
  • First aggression: The group of five walk up to Pollard, five people with guns, saying “You good?” (loudly); Pollard responds with “I’m good, I’m good." According to the defense, when Pollard is saying this, the backdrop of this is his family behind him.
  • Second aggression: One person involved (not Jackson) previously said this to Pollard: “I’m gonna make your mother cry."
  • One person in the group reaches into another person's backpack. Pollard says nothing and backs down, not responding.
  • Third aggression: Shawn Jackson reached for his robe, as if to grab something.
  • Jackson says “I’m gonna crush you” and calls the guys over toward Pollard.
  • According to the defense, Pollard then runs away, and the group starts to chase Pollard.
  • Defense attorneys say Pollard hears “shoot him."
  • "Shawn Jackson runs around Amari Pollard and he grabs him."
  • Renzo Smith is said to be right behind Jackson.
  • According to the defense, that's when Pollard turns around and shoots Jackson: "He hits Shawn every time."
  • Then one of Jackson's good friends in the group shoots and kills Renzo Smith in the process.
  • "Renzo Smith was shot from behind when Pollard was the intended target."
  • According to the defense, that shooter is charged with reckless handling of a firearm: "You’ll see who it is, it’s pretty obvious."
  • One of the people involved starts "jumping up and down and shooting into the crowd," per the defense.
  • When Pollard flees and is met by a law enforcement officer, he "hugs the police officer" and says "They’re trying to kill me, I can’t be here, I need to turn myself into the police.”
  • The police officer showed "unbelievable compassion."
  • In total, Pollard was threatened six times while he had a gun on him.

Jury Selection - Monday, February 26

Jury selection began on Monday, February 26.

The judge told the potential jurors, "We want to be sure that those who have followed [the shooting coverage] or heard about it, that you can put all of that out of your consideration.”

“Anything you’ve heard about what happened on June 6th of last year is not the factual evidence, as far as I know, it may not even be correct. The only thing that’s going to establish what happened on June 6th is the evidence that you’re going to hear about over the next few days.” 

The Judge also said the court wanted potential jurors be able to affirm that they could decide on this case based on this trial because this is the only time that sworn evidence has been put forward.

Nearly every member of the original 24-person jury pool said they'd heard about the shooting prior to the start of the trial.

12 people now remain as part of the jury pool.

Refresh this post for updates on this developing story.

What Happened at Graduation?

Pollard, now 20, faces charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony related to the death of Shawn Jackson.

Jackson was taking part in the graduation ceremonies for Huguenot High School on June 6, 2023, and Pollard was there to watch his family members at the ceremony.

Police have said Pollard and Jackson had an ongoing dispute in the months before the ceremony.

Shortly after the ceremony ended, as the crowds exited the Altria Theater, shots were fired.

In the end, Jackson and his stepfather, Renzo Smith, 36, were dead and several others injured.

Pollard's attorneys have said their client acted in self-defense. Pollard was initially charged with Smith's death as well, but prosecutors dropped those charges upon further review of the evidence.

No one else has been charged in Smith's death. No one has been charged in connection to any of the other people who were injured outside the theater.

Police have also never publicly linked several of the guns recovered from the scene to anyone, only saying one belonged to Pollard.

Richmond Schools Security Concerns and the Third-party Report

A third-party investigation into the circumstances leading up to the shooting conducted by the law firm Sands Anderson revealed Richmond Public Schools (RPS) staff allowed Jackson at graduation without "any consideration of safety concerns."

Jackson was a homebound student, not permitted at school-sponsored events, due to "threats of neighborhood violence."

The student's mother gave multiple warnings to school staff including that students had "shot up" their home and "literally tried to kill him."

Despite knowing safety issues, a school counselor "squeezed" Jackson into graduation the day of the ceremony, failed to complete a threat assessment, and failed to escalate intelligence to security personnel.

"I think it goes to a culture of RPS and safety. There was a lot of things that were missed. We see all the mishaps that have happened at RPS last several years," former RPS Director of Safety and Security Maurice Tovar told investigative reporter Tyler Layne.

“In your opinion, do you think that this is something that could have been prevented?” Layne asked Tovar.

Fmr. Richmond school security director: 'Never been treated so unprofessional'

“I think it could have been easily prevented if he's not supposed to be at graduation or on school property or at school functions. He shouldn't have been there. Pretty simple," Tovar said. "And then if someone decides that he is going to be there, then we're going to come up with a plan. We're going to meet him prior to coming [to the theater.] We're going to get him on stage, we're going to get him off the stage. He's going to be escorted out of the area. We're going to have our police friends involved, and we're going to work collaboratively with first responders."

Before the trial, Richmond Judge Reilly Marchant ruled the third-party report Richmond Public Schools commissioned about the events leading up to the shooting could not be admitted as evidence.

Marchant, who oversaw the WTVR CBS 6 News/Richmond Times-Dispatch lawsuit to get the report publicly released, said he was well aware of the report's contents and said it had no relevance to the trial.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Richmond releases deadly Graduation Day shooting report

LISTEN: WHAT WE KNOW A podcast previewing the Amari Pollard Trial

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