It’s hard to put a soft edge to a trial where a bomb dog trots through the courtroom twice a day, a man has died and a police officer’s freedom is on the line.
Yet out among the audience members who have been following this case for almost a month, a sense of community has sprung up fed by civility and small graces.
The geography of Courtroom 5370 harbors two points of view. On the right: the prosecution, and the family and supporters of Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot to death two years ago by Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick. Kerrick sits at the table to the left. His wife and family sit behind him. So do the family’s friends and supporters.
Almost all on Kerrick’s side are white. Across the aisle, almost everybody is black. It’s easy to imagine the seating chart also reflects opinions about guilt and innocence.
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But out in the hallway, the differences fade. Here, a core group of trial regulars, regardless of their races or allegiances, sit together and talk.
“We’re all here for the same reasons,” says Theresa W. McCormick-Dunlap, a supporter of the Ferrell family who has been here since jury selection. “Of course, we have our version of what justice should be.”
Pam Phillips, who believes Kerrick is innocent, has been one of the more active bridge-builders. “When you reach out,” she says. “People reach back.”
The group doesn’t talk extensively about the trial, but they don’t avoid it either. And they don’t try to change each other’s minds.
“I’m from the Bronx, and I’ve seen the Southern way of deep-frying everything to make it nice,” McCormick-Dunlap says. “But that’s not it. We seem to be making a human connection.”
Outside the building, people worry how Charlotte will react when a verdict comes down. Inside, the tone is different – partisan but collegial.
McCormick-Dunlap says some of the success of the corridor community involves a shared empathy for the families involved.
“Everybody’s life is going to be changed,” she says. “No one will leave this courtroom unscathed.”
There is the court stenographer who sits by the witness stand. The Kerrick trial, however, has given birth to a new breed.
Journals, binders and scraps of paper dot both sides of the aisle. Some journal. Others compile their own accounts of what is shown and said. A mother of a slain police officer who sits with the Kerrick family keeps several notebooks. She also has a file entitled “Juror Expressions,” which she adds to at key moments after scanning the jury box for clues.
Some of the audience scribes say they are trying to draw their own conclusions about the case.
“It’s as if we’re all jurors, in the court of public opinion,” McCormick-Dunlap says.
Others bring pens and pads because they don’t trust the media to get it right.
Says Phillips: “Some feel that what’s being reported is so inaccurate.”