BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jerquay Lavon Freeman, 18, has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Romeo Sheppard on September 1, 2022, at Gardenia Gardens. Freeman was already in the Alachua County Jail after being charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon on September 10. Freeman was 17 at the time of the murder and was on probation after serving two years in adult prison following a plea of nolo contendere to charges of aggravated assault, attempted second-degree murder, burglary, and theft.
Gainesville Police Department (GPD) officers responded to Gardenia Gardens, 1731 NE 8th Avenue, at about 10:40 p.m. on September 1, in response to a report that a person had been shot. Officers found a victim with multiple gunshot wounds in the driver’s seat of a white Volkswagen Jetta; the victim, later identified as Romeo Sheppard, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Detectives reviewed surveillance video from the apartment complex and reportedly saw two people arrive on foot from the southwest, walking toward B building, where Sheppard was sitting in the parked car. The two people stopped walking and stood behind a dumpster about 40 feet away from Sheppard’s car for several seconds, then reportedly approached the car and opened fire. Both people appear to be holding handguns; both reportedly stood on the driver’s side of the car, where the window was down, and shot at Sheppard. One of them put his left hand on the A pillar of the car before they both fled.
The two people were wearing face masks; one wore a dark-colored long-sleeved jacket with a hood, dark pants, and white shoes. The other wore a dark short-sleeve t-shirt and baggy gray pants; he also had a white cloth wrapped around his left hand and forearm. Detectives later learned that the white cloth covered a tattoo that was seen on Freeman’s arm in another surveillance video from the same night.
GPD Forensics processed the car and located a palm print on the A pillar of the car.
Freeman was arrested on September 10 after a GPD officer made contact with the occupants of a car that was parked at a City park while it was closed; an officer saw Freeman placing something under his seat, and as Freeman got out of the car, the officer reportedly saw the handle of a pistol. Freeman was placed in handcuffs, and the pistol was removed from the vehicle and found to have a round in the chamber. As a convicted felon, Freeman was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and has been held without bond since that date for violating probation.
Detectives received information that Freeman had discussed the murder on a call with a jail inmate. Detectives obtained a warrant for data from Freeman’s cell phone, which provided location information.
Detectives obtained surveillance video from locations corresponding to the cell phone data and reportedly observed that Freeman was with Aziel Brown-Gainey (who was arrested on October 13 and charged with murder) two hours before the murder. The location data also reportedly placed Freeman at the scene of the murder at the time it happened, and surveillance video also shows Brown-Gainey’s car in the area of the murder at the time.
Detectives also reportedly obtained an Instagram video showing Freeman, Brown-Gainey, and two others approximately one hour before the murder. In the video, Freeman is wearing the same face mask that the suspect in the Gardenia Gardens surveillance video was wearing.
Detectives interviewed Freeman on November 1 about the murder. Post Miranda, Freeman reportedly said he was not with Brown-Gainey on the night of the murder, but he ultimately admitted that they were together at a convenience store a few hours before the murder. Two other witnesses helped detectives develop further probable cause that Freeman was the second shooter on September 1.
Freeman was charged as an adult with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for threatening to shoot someone in July 2020, when he was 15. He was also charged as an adult with two counts of attempted murder in the first degree and one count of possession of a firearm by an adjudicated delinquent for shooting two people on September 26, 2020. He was later charged as an adult for a vehicle burglary and theft that took place on September 21, 2020. On July 27, 2021, he entered pleas of nolo contendere to the aggravated assault charge in the first case, a lesser included charge of attempted second-degree murder in the second case, and the burglary and theft charges.
He was sentenced to 46 days (time served) for the burglary and theft charges by Judge Phillip Pena and sentenced as a youthful offender to two years of prison, followed by four years of probation, by Judge David Kreider in the other two cases (served concurrently). The State also agreed to dismiss all pending burglary investigations as a condition of the plea agreement. He was ordered to pay restitution to four victims, presumably victims of the burglaries.
Freeman was released from state prison on August 12, 2022. In addition to the felony gun possession charge on September 10, he was charged with violation of probation and is being held without bond on that charge. A first-degree premeditated murder charge has now been added.
Articles about arrests are based on reports from law enforcement agencies. The charges listed are taken from the arrest report and/or court records and are only accusations. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.