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State says teen killed in Jacksonville Wawa was defending her mother

The prosecution says the teenage victim was defending her mother during the fight that led to her death. But the defense says the accused was protecting herself.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Witness testimony is beginning Tuesday in the trial of Shaetavia Cooper, the woman accused in the second-degree murder of 16-year-old Tenerea McClendon, who was shot and killed in a Jacksonville Wawa in 2020. 

Attorneys made their opening statements Tuesday morning, a glimpse of what each side will be trying to prove in the days to come.

Both sides of the courtroom agree that Cooper did shoot McClendon. State is arguing that Cooper unnecessarily escalated the conflict, but Cooper's attorney is arguing she acted in self-defense.

James Sterling Forrest is representing Cooper. He said in his opening statement that the shooting was "a tragedy, a preventable tragedy." However, he says that the Cooper was intimidated by McClendon and had the right to defend herself with a firearm.

 Though McClendon was only 16, Forrest argued that she was 240 pounds and Cooper was threatened by her. 

He said that McClendon wanted to "attack" Cooper and "wanted to be violent." 

Forrest also said that McClendon "spit on" Cooper and "charged" at her.

He argued that McClendon and the group of six she was with, which included McClendon's mother, sister and cousin, followed Cooper outside after their argument inside the store, forcing her to defend herself.

He also pointed out that McClendon legally owned the firearm and had a permit.

'Armed with only her mouth'

Assistant State Attorney LaTesha Campbell is prosecuting this case. She said in her opening statements that McClendon was not violent and Campbell escalated the situation.

Campbell said that McClendon was defending her mother during the argument, who was pregnant at the time.

She said that McClendon and Cooper were arguing over a "perceived slight," and the situation started off calmly. 

In her retelling of events, Campbell said that McClendon spit on Cooper and Cooper replied "I've got something for that," retreating to her car to retrieve the firearm. (The defense is claiming that McClendon and the group with her followed Cooper to the car.)

"One person is armed with only their mouth, no weapons, no kicking, no punching, no one running, attacking... one person armed with only her mouth, after an altercation only inside the store," she said.

Campbell said Cooper decided "that she did not want to argue and she would not be disrespected... she decided to silence Tinerea," and then, "she silenced her forever."

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