Find updates here on the third day of the trial of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick, who is charged with voluntary manslaughter after killing an unarmed man while on duty.
Jury selection began on Monday, with members of the jury pool answering questionnaires and in-person queries from attorneys and from the judge. Twelve jurors and four alternates are expected to be chosen to hear the case. The judge has indicated his “guess-timate” that the trial itself could last a month.
By the time court ended on Wednesday, no jurors had yet been selected to serve.
4 p.m.: Electronic devices banned from courtroom
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After several jurors raised concerns about their personal safety, Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin banned electronic devices from the courtroom. A number of media, including the Observer, had been filing reports from inside the courtroom via the internet, including social media postings on Twitter.
Judges have wide discretion over the use of devices inside their courtrooms. Ervin has not allowed cameras during the jury selection phase, and has not ruled on whether he will allow them when the trial phase begins.
The public is still allowed to witness jury selection inside the 150-seat courtroom, but reporters now must step outside the courtroom to post news.
3:30 p.m. Concerns about safety
A member of the jury pool told the court Wednesday afternoon that publicity surrounding the case has made him fear for his safety.
The 22-year-old man raised concerns while being questioned by state prosecutors. After a few words, Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin stopped him and sent the other 11 potential jurors from the room.
Under questioning by Ervin, the potential juror said rumors were circulating among the panel members that reporters covering the trial had identified them on social media.
He said the reports made him worry about his safety and that he was prepared to protect himself. Calling himself “a believer in the Second Amendment,” the juror said he carried a .22 caliber handgun and would use it if necessary.
Media covering the trial have received questionnaires filled out by potential jurors and have heard juror names spoken in court. Ervin has asked the media not to identify jurors by name to the public. Jurors have been similarly advised not to read or watch any news accounts of the trial.
The juror who raised the original concerns said Tuesday he did not know much about the Kerrick trial. He said he got his first inkling of its importance when he arrived at the courthouse and saw it encircled by TV trucks. He said during questioning Wednesday that he stopped by a kiosk Tuesday and saw the front-page story about the trial in the Observer, which caused him concern that he would be identified.
Ervin questioned the juror for about 10 minutes, promising that he and other courtroom personnel were discussing steps to keep jurors safe.
11 a.m.: Questions about drug and alcohol
Lead prosecutor Adren Harris has repeatedly bored down into the jurors feelings about drugs and alcohol.
On the night he was shot to death, Jonathan Ferrell went out with friends, and a co-worker is expected to testify that he and Ferrell smoked marijuana shortly before Ferrell wrecked his car in Bradfield Farms.
Ferrell’s autopsy put his blood-alcohol level at 0.06, below the legal limit for driving. The autopsy and another test showed no sign of marijuana.
In a statement released Tuesday, Kerrick’s defense team again underscored that they intend to make an issue of Ferrell’s behavior.
They said Ferrell’s drinking put him close to the legal limit and that he had taken his co-worker home expressly to get high with him.
So far, the potential jurors who have been questioned say they would not let their personal views about drugs and alcohol get in the way of their consideration of the evidence. One prospective juror, a Latina cafeteria cashier, says she believes that drinking in moderation is acceptable but marijuana “fries your brain.”
Harris is one of a team of prosecutors from Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office, which took over the case when Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray stepped aside. (Murray is a former law partner with Kerrick’s attorneys.)
In addition to their views on alcohol and drugs, Harris also talked with potential jurors about how crime-scene investigations can’t be judged based on the “magic” viewers see on television crime dramas.
10:30 a.m.: An admonition from the judge
Lead prosecutor Adren Harris had just begun his examination of a white male juror when Superior Court Judge Bob Ervin weighed in.
The juror, the owner of a heating and air-conditioning company, told Harris he went online Tuesday night after getting out of court to read about police-related deaths in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, North Charleston and other places. He said he did not read up on the case against Kerrick.
The judge stopped him. Jurors had been interviewed individually about what they knew about other police shootings and how it might affect their ability to hear Kerrick’s case fairly.
On his questionnaire, the juror said police shootings elsewhere would not affect how he views the Charlotte case.
The judge reminded all 12 jurors in the current selection pool not to talk to anyone about the case or go online to better inform themselves.
After that, Harris’ questioning of the business owner resumed. It’s unclear at this point how his online research will affect whether he is selected to serve on the jury.
What to expect Wednesday
The process of picking a jury for a Charlotte police officer accused of killing an unarmed black man enters its third day with tougher questioning and the expectation that some panel members will be seated.
Jury selection started Monday afternoon. Since then, attorneys have excused a half-dozen potential jurors. Two were college students who have classes starting early next month. Others spoke of economic hardships that serving during a long trial would bring. Still others said they had made up their minds that they believe Kerrick is guilty.
Starting Wednesday morning, Kerrick’s defense team and the state prosecutors handling the case will resume their queries of a panel of 12 that made it through the first screening. The prospective jurors include eight who are white, three black and a Latina. One of the group is a retired police officer and use-of-force trainer. Another owns a gym in North Davidson. A third is a young white male who visits a Facebook page that shows police being shot on the job.
Defense attorney George Laughrun said Tuesday that he expects several jurors to come from this group.
Each side gets six jury strikes, which allows them to eliminate a juror for whatever reason they want. They’ve not used them up to now, but that is expected to change starting Wednesday.
How long it will take to find 12 jurors and four alternates is impossible to predict, although a number of court observers think it could take several weeks. By comparison, one Mecklenburg capital murder trial last year took seven weeks to seat a jury.
Kerrick’s and Ferrell’s family have attended some or all of the proceedings. Court reconvenes before Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin at 9:30 a.m.