A judge in the voluntary manslaughter trial of North Carolina police Officer Randall Kerrick instructed a jury to keep deliberating Friday afternoon after it said it was “deadlocked” following four days of discussions.
Kerrick is a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer charged in the shooting death of former college football player Jonathan Ferrell after a car wreck in September 2013.
The jurors gave Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin a note indicating their “positions remain deadlocked” following three votes on Tuesday through Friday.
The foreman, at Ervin’s request Friday, revealed the vote counts were consecutively 7-5, 8-4 and 8-4, without indicating which way the sides were voting.
Only one juror has changed his or her vote from the initial poll, the foreman said in the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in Charlotte.
Ervin then told the jurors to keep deliberating after a lunch break, advising them to think of any other evidence they could review. It is their duty, he said, to do whatever they can to reach a verdict.
At about 3 p.m., the judge and jury returned to the courtroom — at which time the jury foreman indicated there had been productive discussions about the case. Other jurors appeared to agree with this assessment. Jurors resumed deliberations.
An attorney for Kerrick asked that Ervin declare a mistrial, arguing that the judge could do so if it was clear the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. Ervin declined.
The trial, which began August 3, drew widespread attention from “Black Lives Matter” activists and others because of the race of the parties involved: Kerrick is white, and Ferrell was black. Deliberations began following closing arguments Tuesday.
Kerrick shot Ferrell 10 times on the night of September 14, 2013, after Ferrell went to a house for assistance after an automobile accident. The crash was so severe, Ferrell family attorney Chris Chestnut has said, that the ex-Florida A&M football player had to crawl out the back window of the car.
As was the case in some other police shootings brought to national attention — such as those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina; Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati and, most recently, Christian Taylor in Arlington, Texas — the victim was unarmed.
The circumstances in this case, however, are not so clear.
One night, two accounts
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.
While dashcam video released at the trial indeed appears to show Ferrell walking toward officers, he quickly begins running toward police as lights hit his chest. Someone shouts, “Get on the ground!” three times, and shots are heard off-camera.
Prosecutors said Ferrell started to run because he was afraid for his life after another officer pointed a Taser at him.
The dashcam video seems to exemplify the stark contrast in the accounts told by each side.
Before its release, Chestnut said the video showed that Kerrick committed “cold-blooded murder” and that it would show that Ferrell raised his hands, as if to say “wait.” 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!”
The video, however, didn’t show either event, and didn’t seem to make what happened any clearer.
In a lawsuit that the city of Charlotte reportedly settled this year for $2.25 million, Ferrell’s family 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.”
Kerrick’s defense attorney Michael Greene said Ferrell did not request 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 CNN affiliate WSOC-TV.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t about race. It never was. It’s about choices,” Greene said, according to the station.
Felony voluntary manslaughter involves someone either using excessive force in self-defense or shooting without the intent to kill.
The jury will decide whether Kerrick used excessive force or whether he was justified because he thought Ferrell posed a deadly threat. If convicted, Kerrick faces three to 11 years in prison.