For the past four days, a North Carolina jury weighed the fate of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall Kerrick, who was charged in the shooting death of college football player Jonathan Ferrell after a September 2013 car wreck.
Their decision was no decision.
As a result, Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin on Friday afternoon declared a mistrial.
His decision was not surprising, given the revelation that the jurors’ vote counts were consecutively 7-5, 8-4 and 8-4, without indicating which way the sides were voting. They were considering a felony voluntary manslaughter charge, which involves someone either using excessive force in self-defense or shooting without the intent to kill.
After the lunch break, the jury foreman indicated that there had been worthwhile discussions. But at 4:30 p.m., he came back to say those discussions hadn’t led to any change.
“We were back to square one,” the foreman said. “We didn’t get any further.”
Ervin asked whether any more discussions would be helpful, or whether reflection over the weekend might lead to a breakthrough. The foreman replied no on all counts.
“By the looks on their faces,” he said referring to his 11 fellow jurors — each of whom raised their hands to second his opinion, “it’s not going to go get us any further.”
Those answers led Ervin to state “there’s no reasonable probability” for a unanimous verdict. This mistrial, he explained, means “the case will remain open for further proceedings.”
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.
After Friday’s decision, Charlotte Mayor Daniel Clodfelter acknowledged the strong opinions, urging people to “ask ourselves … what we must do to lessen our fear of each other, our misunderstanding of each other … that can escalate when we find ourselves in tense situations.”
“However you may feel about the outcome of this trial or about what should happen next,” the mayor said, “…you must keep your ears, your minds and your hearts opened to the voices of others who may feel differently than you do…
“We have to use this occasion to step up our listening to each other and our learning from each other about the many different worlds and the different lives that make up our city.”
‘There’s a guy breaking in my front door’
The case started the night of September 14, 2013, with a wreck 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.
Ferrell walked up the home of Sarah McCartney and, according to her, heard someone banging loudly on her door. With only she and her 1-year-old child inside, she briefly opened the door and then shut shut when she saw a stranger. She 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 — Kerrick and two others — 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 Kerrick committed “cold-blooded murder” and 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.
Part of national dialogue
What is clear is how the event ended: with Ferrell shot 10 times and, ultimately, succumbing to his injuries.
Soon thereafter, the case became part of the national dialogue over the killings of unarmed African-American men by white police officers. As such, Jonathan Ferrell’s name was invoked alongside 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 city of Charlotte reportedly settled a lawsuit 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.
He also challenged the notion that Ferrell’s skin color had any role in what happened.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this isn’t about race. It never was. It’s about choices,” Greene said, according to the station.