Charlotte jury hears vastly different accounts of Jonathan Ferrell’s death
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The voluntary manslaughter trial of a Charlotte police officer reached Day 3 Wednesday as the prosecution and defense wove starkly different narratives of how Jonathan Ferrell was killed following a car wreck in September 2013.
Attorneys continued an ongoing argument over whether it was necessary to repeatedly show photos of Ferrell’s body. The defense said the images could unfairly sway the jury and argued that the prosecution was not going to prove excessive force by putting the photographs on display. But the prosecution argued that Ferrell’s appearance at the scene was relevant evidence.
The judge allowed jurors to pass around the photos, rather than show them on a monitor in open court.
Officer Randall Kerrick of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department shot Ferrell 10 times that night after the ex-Florida A&M football player went to a house for assistance following a automobile accident that was so severe Ferrell had to crawl out the back window of the car, Ferrell family attorney Chris Chestnut has said.
But so far, after almost three days of testimony, what actually happened is far from clear.
A never-before-released video shown in court Wednesday gave jurors a glimpse of the moments leading up to the shooting, but it didn’t appear to show many of the details that attorneys involved in the case — on both sides — have claimed happened that night.
The video appears to show Ferrell walking toward officers as the police car with the camera rolling pulls up. A few seconds later, Ferrell appears to be running toward police as lights hit his chest. Someone shouts, “get on the ground” three times and shots are heard off-camera.
Last year, Chestnut said the video showed that Kerrick committed “cold-blooded murder” and that it would show Ferrell raise his hands, as if to say “wait,” before two lasers of light hit his chest.
Kerrick’s defense attorney, meanwhile, said in his opening statement that Ferrell became aggressive, pounding his thighs and taunting Kerrick, saying, “Shoot me! Shoot me!”
In the video, shouts and shots are heard, but the moment of the shooting isn’t shown and Ferrell does not appear to raise his arms.
One night, two accounts
The 2013 shooting drew widespread attention after authorities said Ferrell had been looking for help after a car accident when he was gunned down by police.
Police have said Kerrick and two other officers responded to what they believed was a “breaking and entering” call.
Sarah McCartney, who was home alone with her 1-year-old child, said that night she heard someone banging loudly on her door, briefly opened it and then shut it when she saw a stranger and called 911.
“There’s a guy breaking in my front door,” McCartney told a 911 dispatcher. “He’s trying to kick it down.”
According to Chestnut’s version of events, Ferrell was on the sidewalk when officers arrived and walked toward them because he was relieved they had arrived.
Prosecutors have said Ferrell started to run because he was afraid for his life after another officer pointed a Taser at him.
A lawsuit — that Charlotte reportedly settled this year for $2.25 million — alleges that Kerrick used “stealth and surprise” in approaching Ferrell and “negligently failed to realize that, because of the dim lighting in the area, Jonathan would be startled, frightened and unable to see his approach and commands.”
Without any verbal warning from police, four shots were fired, then there was a pause before six more gunshots, and another pause before the final two rounds, the attorney alleged. Ten of those 12 bullets hit the unarmed 24-year-old, killing him instantly, Chestnut said.
Kerrick’s defense attorneys have a far different story, saying that Ferrell never requested help when he banged on and kicked McCartney’s door, and when McCartney’s house alarm went off, Ferrell said, “Turn off the alarm! Turn it off,” according to WSOC.
Defense attorney Michael Greene said that the medical examiner would testify that Ferrell was on top of Kerrick during the majority of the gunfire, the station said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t about race. It never was. It’s about choices,” Greene said, according to the station.
Paramedic: Officer was in shock
Paramedic Kenneth Phillips testified Tuesday that Kerrick appeared to be “in psychogenic shock” when the medical unit arrived.
“When we evaluated officer Kerrick he was hyperventilating. He was pale, very sweaty. I think someone on the scene took his blood pressure but I’m not exactly sure, but they found his blood pressure was really high and he was very anxious,” Phillips said.
He also had swelling on the right side of his face, around his jaw, as well as a laceration on his inner cheek and dried blood on his lips. Asked on cross-examination if the injuries could have been incurred during a fall, Phillips said yes.
“We received a report from the first responder that officer Kerrick had been assaulted,” Phillips said. “I didn’t ask him if he was assaulted with a fist or with a weapon or anything like that. I think that our attention was drawn to him just to make sure that he did not have a life-threatening emergency at the time.”
Felony voluntary manslaughter means the accused is charged with either using excessive force in self-defense or shooting without the intent to kill.
Kerrick turned himself the day of the shooting and was released the following day on $50,000 bond. He was indicted on a charge of involuntary manslaughter last year.
“We are confident that at the resolution of this case, it will be found that Officer Kerrick’s actions were justified on the night in question,” Greene said at the time.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department did not concur, releasing a statement calling the shooting unlawful.
“The evidence revealed that Mr. Ferrell did advance on Officer Kerrick and the investigation showed that the subsequent shooting of Mr. Ferrell was excessive,” police said in a statement the day of the shooting. “Our investigation has shown that Officer Kerrick did not have a lawful right to discharge his weapon during this encounter.”
Ferrell was working two jobs at the time of the shooting, his mother, Georgia, has said. His fiancee, Cache Heidel, told CNN that Ferrell had been out with friends from one of those jobs, at Best Buy, the night he was shot.