A Fridley man with a history of civil commitments for mental illness and chemical dependency received a 40-year prison sentence Tuesday for beating and stabbing his girlfriend to death inside her St. Paul apartment in 2020 in front of his 2-year-old nephew.
Terrion Sherman’s sentence, handed down by Ramsey County District Judge Kellie Charles, was an upward departure from sentencing guidelines and the statutory maximum for a second-degree intentional murder conviction.
Sherman, 27, had waived a jury trial, and the judge in August found him guilty of brutally murdering 21-year-old Abigail Simpson, a graduate of West Bend High School in Wisconsin who was attending college classes full time in St. Paul with a plan of becoming an attorney.
Sherman faced a presumptive sentence of just over 27 years in prison under state guidelines. Charles, however, ruled that “identifiable, substantial and compelling reasons” justify the upward departure. She said Sherman treated Simpson with particular cruelty — stabbing her with a knife 32 times in the face, scalp and neck — and did so in the presence of a child.
“This is one of the extremely rare cases in which a sentence of the statutory maximum is not only justified, but warranted,” Charles told the courtroom.
The “sad and horrific tale of events” began with Sherman’s “voluntary use of synthetic marijuana that led to the death of Abigail Simpson,” she said.
She expressed her condolences to Simpson’s family.
“I know that’s little solace to you,” she said, “and there’s nothing I can do or say here today that’s going to bring her back. But her love and memory lives on through you and with you. And I’m sorry I only got to know her through the tragic events that bring us here today.”
Simpson’s parents sat in the courtroom, while her sister watched the hearing remotely through Zoom. They chose not to read the victim impact statements they had filed in court this month.
Before explaining the justification for the departure, Charles allowed Simpson’s parents to leave the courtroom, thereby sparing them from hearing the graphic details of their daughter’s killing.
‘Extreme and egregious’
St. Paul police officers were called to Simpson’s Pierce Street apartment, south of Interstate 94 and west of Snelling Avenue, just after midnight Feb. 26, 2020. A man who lives in the building had called 911 and reported “some dude is beating … his girl right now” and that he heard him say “he’s going to kill someone,” Charles noted in her August ruling.
As officers made their way upstairs, they heard stomping and a man say “Stay down or I’ll kill you” as Sherman’s 2-year-old nephew cried, according to the criminal complaint.
Police heard Sherman ordering the boy “to stomp on Ms. Simpson’s head, and that was followed by a loud thump,” Charles said Tuesday.
When no one answered the door, an officer kicked it in. Sherman was seen standing in the living room covered in blood, while Simpson was motionless on the ground, and not breathing.
Sherman’s nephew was standing inches from Simpson’s “lifeless, naked, bruised and bloodied body,” Charles said. Officers’ body-worn cameras showed the “tiny boy covered in blood spatter in a state of shock, horrified by what was happening around him.”
Simpson was beaten so severely that her teeth were broken, and when Sherman arrived at the hospital he believed that one of her teeth may still be lodged in his fist, Charles said.
She called the killing “one of the most extreme and egregious murder cases ever encountered by me, and is significantly more cruel than the conduct typically associated with the offense of intentional murder in the second degree.”
Sherman broke out a rear window in the squad car that was transporting him after his arrest and said he was on drugs, leading officers to transfer him to an ambulance that took him to Regions Hospital in St. Paul to be evaluated.
He made comments about “hitting the dog” and “punching her head off” while hospitalized, but was eventually medically cleared and taken to police headquarters, the complaint said.
He told investigators who asked him whether he took any medication that even though he was prescribed some, he didn’t take them because “(I’m) not crazy,” the complaint said.
Sherman told investigators who interviewed him after his arrest that the boy had become possessed “as a dog” at Simpson’s Merriam Park apartment and that the boy told him Simpson was “really a guy,” the complaint said. He said he blacked out and didn’t recall stabbing her.
Synthetic drug use
Sherman picked up two criminal cases in August 2018.
The first was a fourth-degree assault of a peace officer charge after he lit a shoe on fire on a neighbor’s patio and then spit at a St. Paul police officer, the charges said. The resident who reported the incident told police that Sherman is a “K2 user who frequently causes problems in the neighborhood.” K2 is a synthetic form of marijuana.
Nine days later, he punched two employees at a Family Dollar store in Maplewood who tried to stop him from stealing, according to the complaint that charged him with first-degree aggravated robbery.
The cases were put on hold after judges found him incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness. In October 2018, he was civilly committed as mentally ill and chemically dependent and began treatment at Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.
Court records show that in May 2019 Sherman was provisionally discharged from the state hospital and sent to a Fridley group home.
After Simpson’s murder, Sherman’s sister told investigators that her brother used K2 when he was on furlough from his group home because the substance doesn’t show up in urine tests, according to court records.
She added that she would get concerned when he used the synthetic cannabinoid because “he does crazy things and talks incoherently,” court documents say.
Investigators found a small bag of K2 at the murder scene.
Court proceedings were suspended in 2020 after Sherman was civilly committed as mentally ill and dangerous, and found to be incompetent to stand trial. He was deemed to be competent for court proceedings in January 2022.
Daughter, sister, aunt
At Tuesday’s sentencing, Ramsey County Assistant Attorney Hannah Prokopowicz acknowledged “the really long road to get here.”
“It’s been three years that (Simpson’s) family has had to endure the ups and downs — and mostly downs — of this process,” she said.
Since the murder, Sherman has picked up several new charges while in custody either at a secure treatment facility or the county jail, Prokopowicz noted. They include felony threats of violence and assault involving staff at the St. Peter hospital. Last November, according to other charges, Sherman threw a chair at a prosecutor in a Ramsey County courtroom during a hearing before Judge Charles in which she put on the record that he was competent to stand trial.
Prokopowicz spoke about Simpson before asking Charles to give Sherman the stiffest sentence possible.
“She was a daughter, a sister, an aunt,” she said. “She was an outstanding athlete. She had goals and ambitions and she was working hard, despite some barriers, to get there. Those memories of Ms. Simpson, who she was and no doubt was going to be, should not be allowed to be contaminated by what Mr. Sherman did to her that night.”
Charles summoned Simpson’s parents back into the courtroom for the sentencing.
“I’m going to have Mr. Sherman remain seated for the sentence due to prior issues in the courtroom,” Charles told the courtroom.
She then imposed the prison term, noting how Sherman will receive credit for the 1,337 days he has spent in locked facilities since the murder.