Crime

Group questioning of potential jurors begins in police-shooting trial

Kerrick, left,who faces three to 11 years in prison if convicted, sat next to his his attorney George Laughrun on Monday during the first day of his trial.
Kerrick, left,who faces three to 11 years in prison if convicted, sat next to his his attorney George Laughrun on Monday during the first day of his trial. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

By the end of the second day of CMPD Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick’s trial for voluntary manslaughter, lawyers had assembled a group of 12 prospective jurors for further questioning – a group that probably includes the trial’s first confirmed jurors.

The 29-year-old officer faces three to 11 years in prison if convicted for the September 2013 shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell. Ferrell is black; Kerrick is white.

Potential jurors were asked about their feelings toward police, particularly with regard to recent shootings involving black men and police officers in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, North Charleston and elsewhere.

Defense attorney Michael Greene said jury selection was going as he expected. He said both sides want a fair jury, and “you can’t put a stopwatch on justice.”

Courts reporter recaps the second day of jury interviews in CMPD Officer Randall 'Wes' Kerrick's manslaughter trial in the death of Jonathan Ferrell.

Ferrell, 24, had wrecked his car after taking a friend home. Prosecutors say Ferrell went to a house for help. Fearing a break-in, the woman inside called 911. During the brief confrontation that followed, Kerrick shot Ferrell 10 times from close range as the unarmed former college football player ran toward him.

Prosecutors say Kerrick and two other officers on hand didn’t identify themselves or give Ferrell any commands, but defense lawyers say Ferrell ignored police orders.

Lawyers spent most of the day trying to assemble 12 prospective jurors to question as a group. Before reaching that stage, they quizzed each candidate individually on whether the trial represented an extreme financial hardship and whether the juror already had strong opinions about the case.

Sometimes, the individual questioning was simple. One prospective juror, a white man who owns his own air-conditioning company, said his business partner could take on the bulk of their work and their peak season is ending anyway.

He said he only uses his television for PlayStation, and the only news he reads is sports-related. He didn’t know much at all about the case, he said. He made it to the group of 12 questioned at the end of the day.

Two potential jurors were excused quickly because they will start college out of town in August. Others were sent home only after extensive questioning.

A woman with a “once in a lifetime” trip to Alaska already scheduled and a business owner with a major deal in the works were both dismissed, along with a few candidates who told Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin they already knew what their verdict would be.

The business owner, a Charlotte City Club member, talked about how racism is “a problem in society.” When asked by defense attorneys if, as a defendant, he would want himself as a juror, he said no.

The group of 12 who sat in the courtroom at the end of the day included a retired Wisconsin police sergeant who wrote his department’s policy on use of force and sat on review boards for officers who had used force.

He described the different levels police officers can use, from verbal communication to non-lethal force to “ultimately, use of force.” For an officer to move up a level, he said, “you better have satisfied, in an instant, in a moment, the requirements.”

Neither side used any of their six strikes to remove a juror Tuesday. Everyone who left was excused by Ervin.

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