Crime & Courts

Judge rejects request to move Charlotte police-shooting case

Jonathan Ferrell
Jonathan Ferrell

Charlotte’s police-shooting trial will stay in Charlotte, for now.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin rejected a second request by the lawyers of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick to move his voluntary manslaughter case to another county. Ervin also refused to bring in jurors from outside of Mecklenburg County, an option suggested by Kerrick attorneys Michael Greene and George Laughrun.

Ervin promised to revisit his decisions if attorneys on both sides have trouble picking a jury when the selection begins in two weeks.

Ervin denied another defense motion to issue a gag order on those connected to the case.

Kerrick is charged in the Sept. 14, 2013, shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell, 24, of Charlotte, an unarmed African-American who had wrecked his car nearby. Kerrick and two other officers were answering a 911 call in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood, east of Charlotte, for a potential home invasion. After a brief confrontation, Kerrick, 29, shot Ferrell 10 times.

If convicted, Kerrick faces up to 11 years in prison.

We have a city that continues to run ... there will be no running commentary on the events of the trial.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann

The police officer’s attorneys said recent events might make it more difficult to find an unbiased panel of Kerrick’s peers to hear the case. In particular, they cited the city’s decision in May to settle a lawsuit brought by Ferrell’s family. Under the settlement, which Kerrick also signed, the family received $2.25 million to drop its wrongful-death complaint. Under the agreement, neither the city, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police nor Kerrick admitted blame.

The settlement, however, will be paid from taxpayer money, putting a financial burden on potential jurors who live in Charlotte, Greene and Laughrun said.

They also argued that the city’s recent decision to hire Ohio-based media consultant Mark Weaver to advise on communications issues arising from the trial places a further burden on taxpayers – and was the latest in a series of “blatant attempts” by the city to undermine their client’s defense. They asked Ervin for a gag order to control what Weaver could say.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann objected to the depiction of a “play-by-play” commentator on the trial. The city’s motive in hiring Weaver is to plan ahead for a potentially volatile court drama, given the kinds of civic unrest in other cities where police shootings have taken place, he said.

Interviewed by the Observer last week, Weaver said neither he nor any city employee will comment about the Kerrick trial.

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office is handling the case against Kerrick, and two state prosecutors in court Wednesday opposed moving the trial and said they are not coordinating trial strategy with the city.

The settlement of the civil cases places a tax burden on citizens – the same people to sit in judgment of Wes Kerrick.

Defense attorney Michael Greene.

Special Deputy Attorney General Steven Arbogast said the defense team had not made an adequate case that Kerrick’s jury pool is contaminated. “We’ve had no consultation with the city on any of this,” he said. “This motion is going way out on a limb.”

In December, when Kerrick made his only appearance in court up to now, onlookers in and outside of the courthouse called him a racist and a murderer. Yet at the time, Greene said a change of venue was not needed, and that the defense team had no doubts Kerrick could get a fair trial in Mecklenburg County.

Since then, their tone has changed radically. In April, they made their first request to move the trial. Ervin refused.

Last week, with Weaver’s hiring giving them a new target, they raised the issue again. In their motions to Ervin, Greene and Laughrun wrote that Weaver is “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 on the tax-paying citizens of Charlotte.”

Weaver, they said, was hired “to place fear in Mecklenburg County jurors … that if Officer Kerrick is not found guilty … there will be uprisings, public disturbances and/or violence in Charlotte.”

Ervin, however, declined to put any limitations on what Weaver can say.

The judge also took no action on a defense request to be allowed to review depositions from the civil case before they are released to the public in compliance with an earlier ruling. Ervin delayed his decision until he has time to review redactions to the depositions.

Gordon: 704-358-5095

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