Crime & Courts

CMPD officer’s trial starts Monday in shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell

Local media gather outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in preparation for the Wes Kerrick trial on Monday, July 20, 2015.
Local media gather outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in preparation for the Wes Kerrick trial on Monday, July 20, 2015. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Almost two years after Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick shot and killed an unarmed man while on-duty, his trial will officially begin Monday.

Kerrick, 29, is charged in the Sept. 14, 2013, death of Jonathan Ferrell, a 24-year-old former college football player who had wrecked his car after giving a friend a late-night ride home. Prosecutors say Ferrell went to a nearby home to get help. A woman inside called 911, fearing he was trying to break in. Three officers responded.

Defense attorneys say that in the resulting confrontation, Ferrell ignored repeated police orders and charged at Kerrick, who shot him 10 times. The defense team describes the shooting as “tragic but justified.”

The attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, says the officers did not identify themselves or give Ferrell any orders before one fired a Taser at Ferrell and missed. Fearing for his life, state prosecutors say, Ferrell ran away from the Taser but into Kerrick.

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The trial will play out with a backdrop of national debate on police use of force, particularly against African-Americans. Kerrick is white; Ferrell was black. Demonstrations are expected, but Charlotte has not experienced the violent protests that hit cities such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore within the past year.

Legal terms

Voluntary manslaughter is a Class D felony. A key decision by the jury will be whether Kerrick used excessive force for the circumstances. A prison term of three to 11 years is possible.

Picking a jury

A dozen jurors and at least two alternates are needed. The defense team twice has asked to move the trial out of Mecklenburg County to make it easier to seat a fair-minded jury, but Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin ruled to keep it there. Picking the jury will start Monday and, while it can happen faster, is widely expected to take at least a couple of weeks.

Watching the trial

The judge has not decided whether to allow cameras inside the courtroom, including live video streaming. He will hear arguments from attorneys at 9:30 a.m. Monday.

To watch in person, go to the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. Courtroom 5370 has 150 seats, first-come, first-served. During jury selection, seats likely will be easily available. After opening arguments begin, expect to come early and get in line. For security reasons, standing will not be allowed.

Security

Law enforcement has been planning for months. Leaders from the community and from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department have had many meetings with the public to build trust. The city has reached out to protest groups. The Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office has assigned extra deputies to the courtroom and made special arrangements for getting the defendant in and out of the courthouse.

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