The jury in the trial of Randall Kerrick, the white police officer who emptied his gun into Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed black man, in Charlotte, North Carolina, two years ago, began deliberating yesterday afternoon and continues today, trying to decide whether to convict him of voluntary manslaughter. Ferrell was shot after crashing his car late at night and seeking help at a nearby house, where he was mistaken for a burglar. Kerrick was one of three officers who responded to the report of a home intruder and the only one to draw his gun. He testified that Ferrell rushed him, kept moving after the first four rounds, and tried to grab his gun, forcing him to fire eight more rounds as both men lay on the ground. At that point, Kerrick said, Ferrell was on top of him, swinging his arms, and hit him in the face at least once. "He wouldn't stop," a tearful Kerrick told the jury. "He kept trying to get to my gun."
Prosecutors said Ferrell did not rush Kerrick but incidentally ran in his direction after being spooked by the light from a Taser's laser sight. That much is consistent with a dashcam video of the encounter, which shows Ferrell walking calmly toward the officers until the light appears on his chest, at which point he takes off. The prosecution argued that Kerrick also panicked, rashly firing his gun instead of using less lethal means to ward off the threat he perceived from Ferrell. Kerrick shot Ferrell three seconds after ordering him to lie on the ground.
Thornell Little, the officer who aimed the Taser at Ferrell, testified that when he arrived at the scene Ferrell was pacing and hitting himself. No such agitated behavior can be seen in the dashcam video, but the defense says it happened before the patrol car carrying the camera arrived. Little said Ferrell walked toward him, shouting, "Shoot me! Shoot me!" Little also said he ordered Ferrell to stop. Neither Ferrell's alleged exclamation nor Little's purported command can be heard on the dashcam video, although Kerrick's subsequent commands to "get on the ground" are clearly audible.
The shooting itself can be heard but not seen in the dashcam video, and Kerrick's lawyers argued that footage of those seconds would show the officer reasonably believed Ferrell posed a potentially deadly threat that could be neutralized only by the use of lethal force. Prosecutors noted that Kerrick himself was responsible for the gap in the visual record, since he turned off the dashcam in his patrol car prior to the encounter.
In trying to make Kerrick's account more credible, his lawyers portrayed Ferrell as an unsavory character, emphasizing that he drank beer and smoked marijuana the night of the crash, although toxicological tests found no trace of cannabis in his system and indicated his blood-alcohol concentration was well below the DUI cutoff. The defense even implied that Ferrell really was a burglar. Defense attorney George V. Laughrun II showed the jury a photo of small dents in the front door of the house where Kerrick had gone after the accident, evidence that is consistent with the homeowner's report that he kicked the door after she closed it on him. When police arrived, Laughrun said, Ferrell was walking down the road "because he was looking for some other place, some other victim maybe."
The uncertainty about what exactly happened in the 11 seconds after Ferrell started running and before Kerrick fired the last round counts in the officer's favor as far as reasonable doubt goes. But the attempt to paint Ferrell, a former college football player working two jobs, as a ne'er-do-well and drug-addled aggressor based on a couple of Coors Lights he drank hours before and a toke that apparently delivered no detectable THC may backfire. Likewise the suggestion that Ferrell, who had just been in a serious car accident and was wandering around barefoot, dazed, and frustrated, looking for help, was actually casing houses.