VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A man accused of shooting and killing a Grassfield High School student at an Applebee’s parking lot in 2016 as part of a drug deal gone bad was found guilty Wednesday of first-degree murder and two additional charges following a jury trial in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.

A Virginia Beach jury needed two hours of deliberation to find Jacquan Wilson, 24, guilty in a murder case that has spanned about seven years.

Wilson, who represented himself during the re-trial, was also found guilty of armed robbery and the use of a firearm in a felony in the May 2016 shooting death of Bryant Cueto, 18.

Wilson rested his defense late Wednesday morning without any evidence, and opted not to testify himself. However he did get a chance to address the jury of 10 women and 2 men directly in his closing argument.

“I am not a robber, and I am not a murderer,” he told them. “But if you see me that way, then find me guilty.”

The case initially went to trial back in 2019, but was declared a mistrial after jurors’ cars were broken into in the courthouse parking lot.

The case was marked by delays and a previous mistrial.

“Our family has been waiting for this for a very long time now,” said the victim’s mother Ginger Cueto. “I’m just really glad that we got the justice that we’ve been waiting for today.”

A drug deal gone bad

The shooting happened as part of a drug deal that had gone bad. Wilson had arranged to buy Xanax pills from Cueto. At the time Cueto was a student at Grassfield High School, and Wilson was a student at Great Bridge High School.

The two had texted and agreed on a price of $350 for a bag of the pills. However, the police said Wilson came to the meeting with virtually no money, only a handgun.

The jury watched his initial police interrogation. The one hour-20 minute interview had Wilson going back-and-forth telling competing stories to Virginia Beach detectives four days after Cueto’s death.

Initially, Wilson said he had nothing to do with the killing, and that he was at home in Great Bridge the day Cueto was shot dead in the Virginia Beach parking lot of an Applebee’s restaurant.

But Virginia Beach Police detectives confronted him with a description from an eyewitness, as well as evidence from the victims phone and the phone Wilson was using himself.

About halfway through questioning, Wilson did ask for an attorney, but about five minutes later, changed his mind and continued the interrogation.

Wilson entered the backseat of the car Cueto arrived in, with Cueto in the front passenger seat. He told detectives that Cueto had a gun, and he snatched it from him because he thought he himself would be the victim of a robbery.

Wilson then admitted to shooting Cueto, saying he didn’t mean to kill him. The bullet entered Cueto’s left side, tore through vital organs, and he died of internal injuries.

Wilson told detectives he took the black .38 special revolver and threw it off the Jordan Bridge.

Wilson said he had purchased Xanax from Cueto in the past, and had contacted him the day Cueto was killed and arranged to meet at the Applebee’s restaurant on General Booth Boulevard.

Wilson told detectives he stole the gun from a car a couple months before.

Wilson told police his Facebook name was “Plugg Montana,” and police say he posted that he had a new supply of Xanax shortly after Cueto’s death – with the message “Zannies on deck, (hit me up).”

At one point, Wilson is heard telling the detectives questioning him, “I’m going to jail for the rest of my life.”

When the interrogation ended, Wilson once again denied any involvement in the killing.

Previously, police had said the 2016 shooting happened during a pre-arranged drug deal.

Before and after the shooting

On Tuesday the court heard from multiple witnesses including the police officers who responded and investigated the shooting, forensics experts and the man who was in the driver seat of the car when it occurred.

Ryan Umstot and Cueto had both attended Grassfield, graduating a couple years apart. Umstot told the court that Cueto was “more like a brother to me.”

Umstot said he’d initially met Cueto at the end of his shift working at Home Depot on the day he was shot. He followed him back to his house, Cueto briefly went inside, and the pair left to drive around and smoke marijuana – eventually ending up at the (former) Applebee’s on General Booth Boulevard in Virginia Beach.

He said Cueto wasn’t initially clear that they were going there to buy drugs, though he eventually surmised it. Umstot backed into a parking spot and Cueto left to purchase drugs from a person in a silver Nissan Altima nearby. Cueto returned, pulled a “big clear bag of xanax” from his pocket and began snapping photos with his phone.

A short time later, two men who Cueto and Umstot didn’t know approached their car, with one getting into the backseat and the other leaning into the driver’s side window. Umstot said he noticed a .38 revolver appear between the two front seats.

“I believe I screamed ‘give ’em the pills,'” Umstot told the court. When Cueto refused, he said, the man leaning into the window said “pop him,” and the man in the backseat fired a single shot into Cueto’s back, just under his shoulder.

The shooter then attempted to grab the baggie but it ripped in the process, sending white pills all over the vehicle. The two men then left on foot.

Umstot, believing that an ambulance response would take too long, then drove towards Sentara Princess Anne Hospital, talking to a 911 operator on the phone along the way. Just before making the turn into the hospital, he flagged down officers who began CPR until EMS arrived.

The courtroom grew tense at times as Wilson, representing himself, questioned Umstot, attempting to poke holes in his testimony. He repeatedly asked questions, then fired back at Umstot’s answers with portions of transcripts from his initial police interviews, which seemed to contradict his statements in court.

Umstot, for his part, repeated that he had been in shock during the first interviews with officers, and was worried about violating a two-year good behavior provision for a past crime, initially. He said the morning after the shooting, at which point he knew Cueto had died, he told investigators he hadn’t been forthright and divulged more.

Wilson noted that Umstot did not pick his face out of a photo lineup conducted by police. Umstot responded that the quality of the first round of photos wasn’t good enough to make the connection. He did, however, identify Wilson by the clothes he was wearing, including a pair of paint speckled tie-dye pants that Wilson appeared to be wearing in a Facebook photo presented to the court.

Umstot was adamant that he clearly remembered the day that his friend died – and who killed him – regardless of the interview transcripts.

“It’s weird how PTSD works; the smell in the air, a song on the radio. It’s different when you see someone in person,” Umstot said of identifying Wilson as the shooter.

The court also heard from multiple expert witnesses who explained the fingerprint-matching process used to link perpetrators to crimes. Prints from Wilson and another man matched those found on the outside of the car.

There was no money involved in the deal, though they had an agreed price of $350. Police, however, testified that Wilson had no money on him, just his gun.

What’s next

Wilson showed little emotion as the three guilty verdicts were read at about 6 p.m. Wednesday evening.

His sentencing is scheduled for June 21, and he faces anywhere from 43 years to life in prison.

“All I can pray for is some leniency from the judge,” said Wilson’s mother Natasha. “Because they were both children. What you see sitting up in the courthouse, is the man he’s grown into from sitting in there for seven years. He was a child too.”