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Man sentenced to 30 years for downtown Duluth shooting death

Scott Allen Pennington died Sept. 1, 2018, after a shooting on First Street in downtown Duluth. (Photo courtesy of Emma Espejo)

DULUTH — Scott Allen Pennington was a fun-loving 31-year-old who was always looking out for his family and wouldn't hurt a fly, a judge was told Tuesday.

Knowing their son's personality made it that much harder for Dick and Sharon Pennington to learn that Scott was fatally shot — without any apparent motive — outside a downtown Duluth bar over the 2018 Labor Day weekend.

"The shock and pain was so unbearable we could hardly breathe," they recalled in a letter read in court Nov. 26. "We will never know another day with him in it. Our hearts are broken."

Pennington's parents and extended family gathered in a Duluth courtroom to watch as his killer, 27-year-old Jamal Tyshawn Jackson, received his punishment after a jury last month rejected his self-defense claim.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Theresa Neo sentenced Jackson to a maximum guideline term of more than 30 years in prison on a count of intentional second-degree murder.

"In that one split second you changed many lives," the judge told Jackson. "You have plenty of time left to engage in a more meaningful life. But the Pennington family will never have Scott again."

Jackson declined to speak at the sentencing and did not display any apparent emotion throughout the proceedings, which included four statements from the victim's family.

Pennington's family members shared memories and pondered what could've been — marriage, kids, many more games of pick-up basketball with his father. Dick Pennington wore a Minnesota Vikings jersey — a nod to the team his son loved to cheer on every Sunday this time of year.

"Scott was a handsome, 6-foot-8, larger-than-life person who engaged everyone when he entered a room," his parents said. "He lived life to the fullest."

Jackson admitted at his trial that he fatally shot Pennington outside Aces on First shortly before 1 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2018, testifying that he did so out of a fear for his own life. Jackson told the jury he had been threatened and bullied in the past and was confronted by Pennington, who he did not know but believed to be reaching for a firearm during the brief encounter.

St. Louis County prosecutor Jon Holets disputed that account, noting that none of the many witnesses on the crowded street heard or saw any evidence of a dispute before Jackson suddenly shot Pennington in the face. It took a jury less than three hours to unanimously agree, finding Jackson guilty on Oct. 29 after a seven-day trial.

Despite Jackson's lack of criminal history, Holets requested the maximum guideline term. He said the defendant attempted to evade responsibility, fleeing the scene, disposing of the gun and changing clothes before leaving town. Subsequently, Holets said, Jackson sought to turn the victim into a "sinister hitman."

"Scott was a kind, caring, good person (and) good friend," the prosecutor said. "Nothing he did justified the defendant murdering him."

Holets also noted that the crime happened in front of many witnesses on a crowded downtown street, traumatizing many additional people and shocking the community in a way that isn't always the case.

"This crime, more than most, has an impact that never goes away," Holets told the court.