Officer’s defense team again asks that police shooting trial be moved from Charlotte

Authorities say Jonathan Ferrell was fatally shot by CMPD Officer Randall Kerrick on Sept. 14, 2013.
Authorities say Jonathan Ferrell was fatally shot by CMPD Officer Randall Kerrick on Sept. 14, 2013.

Lawyers for a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer charged in the 2013 shooting death of an unarmed black man have again asked a judge to move the case outside the county.

In doing so Thursday, Randall Kerrick’s defense team accused the city of Charlotte of “blatant attempts” to intimidate and sway potential jurors as part of a prolonged effort to undermine Kerrick’s right to a fair trial. They also asked Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin to place a gag order on those connected to the upcoming trial.

Given these facts, it is apparent that the city of Charlotte does not want Officer Kerrick to receive a fair trial.

Randall Kerrick’s defense team

Attorneys George Laughrun and Michael Greene filed their motions and accusations following the Wednesday announcement that the city of Charlotte had hired communications expert Mark Weaver to consult on media relations during police officer’s trial.

Kerrick is charged with voluntary manslaughter in connection with the Sept. 14, 2013, death of Jonathan Ferrell. Police say he shot Ferrell 10 times. The officer was arrested the same day.

Kerrick is the first Charlotte police officer charged with an on-duty shooting in at least 30 years and will be prosecuted by the attorney general’s office. Jury selection begins July 20.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, said the office had no comment Thursday night on the latest defense moves.

Kerrick’s attorneys have tried to move the trial once before, saying in April that the pool of potential jurors had been tainted by the extensive publicity the case had received. Ervin, who will hear the trial, denied the so-called change of venue in May.

We don’t want to affect this trial. That’s not our job. Our job is to run the city.

City of Charlotte media consultant Mark Weaver

Weaver told the Observer on Wednesday that neither he nor the city will comment on the events of the trial. Instead, he said he is helping the city prepare for the possible crush of media covering the case.

City officials “don’t want to affect this trial,” he said. “That’s not our job. Our job is to run the city.”

But Laughrun said Weaver’s hiring was the city’s latest effort to undermine Kerrick’s defense. He derided Weaver as “a hired gun” brought in “to put a pro-city spin on everything that happens.”

The lawyers also criticized the timing of the city’s “rushed” settlement of a lawsuit filed by Ferrell’s family in May for a record $2.25 million. And in their motions, they again accused the city of attempting to release the so-called “dash-cam” video last year shot at the scene of the shooting. A judge placed the video under the control of the attorney general’s office.

On Thursday, Laughrun and Greene intensified their attacks against the city, describing Weaver’s hiring as the city’s “insurance policy to ensure that Officer Kerrick is convicted ... and that the city can justify the $2.25 million burden it placed up the tax-paying citizens of Charlotte.”

They went on to say that City Manager Ron Carlee’s decision to hire Weaver “is a blatant attempt to place fear in Mecklenburg County jurors and to make illusions to the public that if Officer Kerrick is not found guilty .. there will be uprisings, public disturbances and/or violence in Charlotte.”

City spokeswoman Sandy D’Elosua said the city would not comment beyond what Carlee said after the announcement of Weaver’s hiring.

“We have consistently found that having the advice of someone who is not intimately involved with events has been helpful in providing perspective,” the city manager said.

Kerrick’s attorneys say their client’s defense may also be compromised by the pending release of depositions from the lawsuit. In them, leaders of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department draw legal conclusions about Kerrick that they are not qualified to make, the lawyers claim.

Laughrun and Greene have asked Ervin to issue gag orders on attorneys for both sides, court support staff, police, city personnel including Carlee and the city council, as well as Weaver.

The Observer sought the depositions after the close of the lawsuit against Kerrick and the city.

Observer attorney Jon Buchan said the newspaper will review the motion for a gag order and decide whether to object.

“North Carolina courts have set a very high bar against such gag orders on trial participants,” Buchan said. “This scattershot motion falls far short of that bar.”

Gordon: 704-358-5095