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Jury finds Thompson guilty in Cloquet homicide case

After extensive testimony and hours of deliberation, the jury presented a guilty verdict in the case of a murder of a woman, her child and unborn child.

thompson,sheldon.jpg
Sheldon James Thompson
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CARLTON — A jury has found Sheldon James Thompson, of Cloquet, guilty of the murder of his pregnant girlfriend and her child.

Jackie Defoe Kevin Shabaiash Jr.
Victoria Smith holds a picture of Jackie DeFoe and her son, Kevin Shabaiash Jr., during a community event March 9, 2020.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

Closing arguments took place Tuesday, May 31, in the trial, which began on May 16.

Thompson was charged with killing Jackie Ann Defoe, 27, and Kevin Lee Shabaiash Jr., 20 months, in March 2020, at Defoe's residence at 1620 Locke Lane, Cloquet.

Defoe was also pregnant with Thompson's child at the time of her death.

Thompson was charged with three counts of premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse with a past pattern of domestic abuse and three counts of intentional second-degree murder.

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The jury deliberated for six hours before returning a guilty verdict on each of the charges.

Judge Jill Eichenwald scheduled a sentencing hearing, in which the defense will have a pre-sentence investigation, on June 15 at 3 p.m.

Since the only earlier dates were June 1 and 2, originally scheduled for the trial, the defense requested the next available day, June 15, which Eichenwald thought was reasonable due to the magnitude of the case.

County Attorney Lauri Ketola said she was pleased with the outcome, and felt that justice was done.

"You can't bring them back, but the next best alternative is justice," she said. "I am grateful that the jury did the hard work in this case."

Ketola added that the pre-sentence hearing will allow victim impact statements from family and friends, but the three premeditated first-degree murder charges come with mandatory life sentences.

Tammy Soumi, Defoe's mother, said it has been a long wait for this day.

"I am happy with the verdict, I have been waiting over two years," she said. "Today it finally happened."

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Closing statements

Prior to deliberating, the jury heard extensive closing arguments from both the defense and the prosecution.

The closing arguments by the prosecution were made by Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge.

Eldridge argued that the relationship between Thompson and Defoe was one of power and control, and Thompson was tired of her keeping him tied down.

"He didn't want her anymore," she said.

Eldridge continued, saying the evidence in the case corroborates that Thompson killed Defoe and her child and then attempted to sell her valuables in order to flee the state.

She noted instances from Thompson driving to Defoe's house before she was killed, to a palm print with Defoe's blood on it near a light switch and that he was in possession of her possessions after she was dead.

Eldridge said the timing was due to Defoe getting $5,000 in her tax returns, which Thompson planned on taking.

She showed a security camera still of Thompson withdrawing money from an ATM, where in two instances he withdrew $1,000 and $900.

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Eldridge said Thompson was found by local authorities in the woods after attempting to misdirect them saying he was someplace else.

"He started sobbing when driving by (Defoe's) house," she said.

Eldridge also presented several facts as evidence of premeditation and an attempt to cover up the crime after it was committed.

The defense's closing arguments were made by Jesse Dong, an attorney for the defendant, who said there were numerous errors in the state's evidence, and there wasn't enough evidence to convict his client beyond a reasonable doubt.

Dong said the relationship between Thompson and Defoe was "argue, reconcile and repeat."

"None of his actions indicate he committed the murder," Dong said. "There is actually a lack of motive."

Dong argued that the DNA evidence does not tell the full story, of how, when or why it shows up at a certain place.

Dong also said there was never a real confession made by Thompson in the case.

He had said, "I really messed up," to a officer when he was initially arrested after fleeing in the woods. However, Dong said that the defendant suffered from hypothermic conditions and the officer didn't record video of the statement.

Another instance where Thompson allegedly confessed to a family member was when he told his cousin, Taylor Smith, that he killed both Defoe and her child.

Smith testified that Thompson told her he killed Defoe and her child on May 24 .

Dong said Smith's testimony was not reliable as she was using drugs the night before Thompson made that statement to her, and that when he was asking her questions during her testimony she was too confused to remember anything.

"The evidence is being twisted to fit on the story," he said.

In the prosecution's rebuttal, Eldridge, said it wasn't an error the defendant's palm print appeared in the victim's blood on the wall.

When it came to identifying the defendant driving in different cars or the testimony from Smith, she said it had been corroborated by other testimony presented in the case.

"Why would he come back? He comes back to see if he's been found out yet," she said. "If they hadn't found him out yet, he can go back and pick up other stuff."

Eldridge said the defendant was also medically cleared before his "I messed up," statement was made to an officer.

"He had a plan, it just maybe wasn't the best," she said.

This story was updated at 9:35 a.m. June 2 with more information regarding the defendant and where the murder took place.  It was originally posted at 9:07 p.m. May 31.

MORE FROM DYLAN SHERMAN:
Motions by the prosecution and defense to increase or decrease the bail, respectively, were denied by the judge.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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