WEST PALM BEACH — Assistant State Attorney John Parnofiello told the jury that June 9, 2016, was supposed to a celebration for those graduating high school. Yes, there was underage drinking and teens using illicit drugs, but, he said, “it was a normal high school party” at The Acreage residence, one without any problems.
As the party grew in size, and teens invited other teens, things changed and a Jupiter High School student was fatally shot.
“What was supposed to be a joyful event turned into every parents’ nightmare,” Parnofiello said.
After two days of jury selection, the first-degree murder trial of 23-year-old Shamar Lawrence began with opening statements Thursday before Circuit Judge Kirk Volker and a full courtroom. Lawrence, then 19, is accused of fatally shooting 17-year-old Branden Jackson after a dispute that night.
Witness stories were conflicting. Some said Lawrence was defending his little brother outside the home off Mandarin Boulevard and 31st Road North, just north of Lion Country Safari, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report. Others told investigators Jackson was shot “cold-blooded” by Lawrence.
Defense attorney Scott Skier told the jury what Parnofiello had just told them in opening statements was not part of the evidence in this case. Skier said he was going to let the evidence speak for itself. He told jurors it was their job to weigh the evidence that will be presented — everything from the witnesses to the experts and every photo and physical piece of evidence in between.
He said throughout the trial, they should be asking themselves questions like, “Whose gun? Whose bias? Who has motivation to lie and why?”
Lawrence didn’t bring the gun to the party, Skier said.
Parnofiello said the teen who threw the party invited Lawrence and his brother to the residence. As the party grew, the teen said it was getting too big and she didn’t want anyone else there. Jackson and his friends arrived from Jupiter shortly after that decision was made, he said.
Jackson and others got into an argument with several people at the home. Parnofiello said they eventually turned back to where they parked.
“But they never make it back to the car,” Parnofiello.
Witnesses said Lawrence’s younger brother continued to argue with Jackson and the exchange allegedly turned physical, and that’s when he called for his older brother. Meanwhile, Lawrence had taken a firearm away from Stone Lequerique, another party-goer, because he thought Lequerique was too intoxicated, Parnofiello said.
Eventually, Lawrence rushed from the home to the street with others to help his little brother, witnesses said. Parnofiello said Jackson was then hit repeatedly and eventually shot by Lawrence in the shoulder.
Logan Lee, one of the teens who drove to the home that night with Jackson, testified Wednesday that he thought it was a minor injury at first because he was talking to Jackson, but then he said he freaked out when he realized the severity of the situation.
He said Lawrence’s little brother repeatedly said, “Why did you do this?”
Lee said he could not identify Lawrence as the gunman.
Lequerique, whose gun was used in the fatal shooting, testified Thursday he saw Lawrence fire the fatal shot at Jackson.
Lequerique is one of several names listed in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jackson’s parents in 2018. Also on the list are Lawrence and the parents of the teen who live at the home where the party was hosted.