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Hearing delayed for officer charged in Jonathon Ferrell’s death

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/28/15/58/165wF3.Em.138.jpeg|436
    - Florida A&M University via AP
    Jonathon Ferrell is seen in an undated photo provided by Florida A&M University. Police say Ferrell, 24, was shot and killed Sept. 14 by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall Kerrick after a wreck in Charlotte. Ferrell was unarmed.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/09/19/12/58/D1Xyl.Em.138.jpeg|240
    - MECKLENBURG SHERIFF's WEBSITE
    Randall Kerrick, CMPD police officer. MECKLENBURG SHERIFF's WEBSITE
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/17/17/54/1pXXWz.Em.138.jpeg|500
    -
    Randall Kerrick
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/12/17/17/51/GwhMa.Em.138.jpeg|435
    - AP
    Jonathon Ferrell

For the second time, the preliminary court hearing for a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer charged in the September shooting death of an unarmed man has been delayed so state prosecutors can prepare their case.

Officer Randall Kerrick’s “probable cause” hearing originally was set for early October. It was rescheduled to this week to give the state attorney general’s office more time to review the evidence.

Now, Kerrick’s hearing has been delayed for two more months, to Feb. 11. Again, the hold-up has to do with evidence.

Kerrick has been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the Sept. 14 death of Jonathon Ferrell, a former college football player. Police say Kerrick fired 12 shots at the unarmed Ferrell, hitting him 10 times.

Mecklenburg County Deputy District Attorney Bart Menser, who represented the attorney general’s office at a brief hearing Tuesday at the county courthouse, said state prosecutors are awaiting forensic reports. District Attorney Andrew Murray asked the attorney general to handle the prosecution because he and Kerrick’s defense team are former law partners.

The case is now in the hands of senior Deputy Attorney General James Coman, who heads the attorney general’s special prosecution division. The team handles cases at the request of district attorneys, often involving charges against law enforcement officers or other public officials.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, confirmed Tuesday that state prosecutors are awaiting forensic test results and other evidence connected to the Kerrick case. She said the forensic testing is taking place at an out-of-state location.

In a preliminary hearing, prosecutors outline their evidence, leaving a judge to decide if they have a strong enough case to take to trial. Those hearings normally occur within a few weeks of an arrest.

Kerrick was charged Sept. 15, and the delays mean his preliminary hearing now is scheduled to take place almost five months after he was charged.

George Laughrun, Kerrick’s lead attorney, agreed to the delay. Before Tuesday’s hearing he declined to discuss his case or make Kerrick available for questions. Laughrun estimated that if his client stands trial, it would be late next year or early 2015.

Kerrick was jailed less than 24 hours after Ferrell’s death in the Reedy Creek neighborhood of northeast Mecklenburg.

Ferrell, 24, had given a co-worker a ride home that night, then wrecked his car. A woman in a house nearby called 911, saying that an unknown man was pounding on her door. Ferrell was shot after he approached three officers who responded to the call.

Kerrick, the least-experienced officer on the scene, fired a dozen shots, all from close range. He is the first Charlotte officer charged in an on-duty shooting in at least 30 years. Laughrun, a former assistant district attorney, has called the shooting “justified.”

The death of an unarmed black man at the hands of a white police officer drew national headlines. Ferrell’s family has repeatedly called for the release of the “dash-cam” video, which shows in part how the confrontation between Ferrell and police unfolded.

Under an order by a Mecklenburg judge, Coman now controls the video and has not released it to the public or the family.

The family’s attorney, Chris Chestnut, described the delays in Kerrick’s prosecution as disturbing but said the Ferrells hope for a thorough state investigation.

“We’ll just keep praying that they’ll do their jobs,” he said.

He added that he expects to file a civil lawsuit for the family over Ferrell’s death sometime around “the first of the year.”

Experienced prosecutor

Coman, with more than 30 years as a North Carolina prosecutor, is best known for his 2007 investigation into the prosecution of the Duke lacrosse scandal that led to all charges being dropped against team members.

His unit has handled numerous cases against police officers, including an ongoing probe of corruption charges against a New Hanover County sheriff’s lieutenant.

Coman’s team also is prosecuting High Point Mayor Bernita Sims on charges of writing a worthless check, and has prosecuted criminal charges against district attorneys, sheriffs and other high-profile targets. This year, the group also negotiated a $400,000 payout to employees of a company after the former CEO dropped their health insurance without notice.

Coman himself has prosecuted more than 250 jury trials, focusing on public corruption, murder, sexual assault and white-collar crime.

Kerrick remains suspended without pay. The state Fraternal Order of Police is paying his legal costs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg FOP spokesman Randy Hagler said the group is satisfied with Kerrick’s defense.

“We feel strongly that the officer deserves the best representation available and we feel that with Mr. Laughrun’s law firm, that’s what he’s getting,” Hagler said.

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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