The family of a 15-year-old shot and killed during his school lunch period is reeling after a jury acquitted one of the men charged with murder.
“The system has failed us, and the jury has failed us,” said Cortez Rice, the father of Jahmari Rice.
Jahmari Rice, 15, of Richfield, Minnesota, was an aspiring football player. His dreams of becoming a pro football player were cut short on Feb. 1, 2022. Rice was among three students shot at South Education Center.
“All I can do is to continue praying to God for answers and the strength to continue moving forward,” Cortez Rice said.
Jahmari Rice transferred to the school three days before he was killed. Cortez Rice says he enrolled his sophomore son in the school to boost his chances of landing a football scholarship.
Jahmari Rice was leaving school for off-campus lunch at the time of the shooting. As he was leaving, he and two other students encountered Alfredo Solis and Fernando Valdez-Alverez. The students began to argue as they migrated to the parking lot.
Once in the parking lot, an unnamed 17-year-old student punched Solis. Valdez-Alvarez fired numerous shots at the three male victims in response to the punch thrown.
“After he shot at the victims, Solis and Valdez-Alvarez ran to their SUV, where they continued firing shots once they got inside the vehicle and drove off,” the Hennepin County attorney said.
KARE reported a witness heard “three shots and then 10-20 seconds later, heard a vehicle drive away and two more shots.”
“Rice and the two other victims ran back toward the school when the shooting started,” KARE reported.
KMSP reported police placed the school on lockdown after the shooting.
Police later arrested Valdez-Alverez and Solis on the evening of Feb. 1 in nearby Minneapolis. Police initially charged the shooters with three counts of second-degree murder.
Jahmari Rice died from the shooting, while the other two shooting victims survived.
“Our family has experienced the most horrific terrifying experience anybody can think of, by sending your kid to school and your kid not coming home,” Cortez Rice said.
Solis’ jury trial lasted from Nov. 28 to Dec. 7. The now 20-year-old Solis faced several charges, but the jury rendered a not-guilty verdict.
“The majority of the evidence that they had against these killers, we thought we could have at least some accountability and justice for my son,” Cortez Rice said.
The jury determined Solis was not guilty of second-degree murder with intent, aiding and abetting; not guilty of second-degree felony murder, aiding and abetting; not guilty on two counts of second-degree attempted murder, aiding and abetting; not guilty of first-degree bodily harm, aiding and abetting.
Solis was found guilty of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon.
Matthew Jaimet, Solis’ public defender, could not immediately be reached for comment.
David Schultz is a law professor at the University of Minnesota. He believes Solis’ charges, coupled with his accomplice pulling the trigger, influenced the jury’s decision.
“Solis was charged with felony assault. The victim died, and therefore even though Solis did not pull the trigger, he can be charged with second-degree felony murder,” Schultz said.
“My guess is the jury was not persuaded by the evidence; he should have been convicted of felony murder since he did not pull the trigger and instead was convicted on the lesser charge,” Schultz added.
“We had all the evidence, video footage, and recordings. There was no way that we should have lost that. When we received this verdict, it was a smack in the face,” Cortez Rice said immediately after the verdict.
Cortez Rice says most of the jurors worked in the education field. So the family thought the jury’s occupation makeup would boost their chances for a guilty verdict, despite the racial makeup.
“It was mostly white jurors; there was one Black juror,” Cortez Rice said.
Jahmari Rice’s death reverberated throughout the Richfield community in the days and weeks following his death.
Jahmari Rice’s mother, Shyrese James, expressed sorrow at a vigil for her son. “I’m confused. I’m hurt, and I don’t wish this pain on nobody,” she said.
A spokeswoman for District 287 sent Atlanta Black Star a statement following the jury verdict in Jahmari Rice’s death.
“The February 1, 2022, shootings, which resulted in the tragic death of one young man and serious injury of another, are never far from the minds of many District students, staff, and leaders. As always, our thoughts and prayers are with Jahmari’s family and friends,” said Marcy Doud, intermediate School District 287 superintendent.
The family has said it plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district.
“There were no calls made to the parents or families about their children being harmed on that day,” Cortez Rice alleged.
Atlanta Black Star sought comment on allegations made by Rice’s family, but our requests were not immediately returned.
WCCO reported, “the school district created a safety response team in response to this shooting. The district added metal detectors, security cameras, and additional staff training, among other measures.”
Solis was sentenced to three years in prison on Jan. 3. He already served 337 days in jail, which will be credited toward his incarceration, CBS reported. During his sentencing hearing, the judge told Solis he was a “lucky man.”
With one jury trial behind them, Rice’s family is holding out hope Fernando Valdez-Alverez’s trial scheduled for Feb. 13 ends with a guilty verdict.
“It was retraumatizing to see this stuff over again. We have to deal with this stuff again on February 13 for the other killer, then we have to deal with again for a civil suit,” Cortez Rice said.
Despite the ongoing fight for justice, Cortez Rice says nothing will replace having his son around and watching him grow up.