Richmond judge says RPS graduation report can't be used as evidence in suspect's upcoming trial

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Posted at 5:26 PM, Feb 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-21 06:12:32-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- A final pretrial hearing was held Tuesday ahead of next week's trial for the suspect charged in last summer's deadly shooting outside the Altria Theater following the Huguenot High School graduation ceremony.

The hearing lasted about 45 minutes as Judge W. Reilly Marchant ruled on motions, or requests, by prosecutors about what evidence can be used in the scheduled five day jury trial for Amari Pollard.

CBS 6 Legal Analyst Todd Stone said such rulings are very common.

"Because, it can really muddy the water if you get a lot of evidence that's prejudicial and not relevant or probative," explained Stone.

Pollard faces charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony related to the death of Shawn Jackson, 18.

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.

Police have said the two had an ongoing dispute and shortly after the ceremony ended and the crowds exited the Altria Theater, a shooting erupted. 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 since and no one has ever been charged for any of the people who were injured. Police have also never publicly linked several of the guns recovered from the scene, only saying one belonged to Pollard.

Stone said those unknowns could be revealed in the course of the trial.

"It's going to be a really interesting trial because we're going to get to see a lot of forensic evidence that we might not have heard about before and get a more complete picture of what happened that day."

As for Tuesday's hearing, Judge Marchant ruled neither side could mention the potential sentence for the charges Pollard faces during the jury selection process.

He also ruled the third-party report for RPS about the lead-up to the shooting cannot be admitted as evidence. Marchant, who oversaw the WTVR/Richmond Times-Dispatch lawsuit to get it publicly released, said he was well aware of the report's contents and said it had no relevance to what the trial is about.

"Here, the judge recognized that the RPS report is really focused on what the school system either did or didn't do, should have done. All that stuff precedes the shooting. What's relevant in a criminal trial is [Pollard's] state of mind, what he was intending at the time he pulled the trigger — not what the school system did or failed to do, prior to that point," said Stone.

But the judge did say it could be used if witnesses in the trial who were quoted in the report gave conflicting answers.

The final ruling to not allow the submission of witnesses or evidence about Jackson's character unless certain criteria are met in the trial.

Pollard's team has said their client acted in self-defense and the judge told them they would have to meet the legal standard of that claim, then make a motion to submit the evidence.

"Character evidence of the victim, that's always a touchy subject," said Stone. "Some of that can come in sometimes, but it has to be made relevant by the defense. You can't just sling mud at the victim. If you're a defense attorney, you have to have a basis to show that there is actual self defense going on — that there is legally a claim to be made of self defense. If you can't do that, then you also can't bring in this character evidence that the defense is trying to bring in."

"For the most part, these seem to be pretty textbook rulings on these issues," added Stone. "Because you just can't admit evidence of a lot of these things that don't have any impact on the actual issues at trial."

While the trial is scheduled for five days, both sides indicated it could be finished in three to four days.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

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