Jury selection nears finish line in police shooting trial

Jonathan Ferrell
Jonathan Ferrell

Prosecutors and defense attorneys moved closer to seating a full jury Monday in the voluntary manslaughter trial of CMPD Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick, choosing two more jurors to decide whether he used excessive force in the fatal 2013 shooting of an unarmed man.

At the current pace, a full panel of 12 jurors and four alternates could be seated by midweek. Monday marked the beginning of the second week of jury selection, with 11 now picked.

Attorneys for the prosecution and the defense both get six strikes to eliminate potential jurors. So far, the strikes have fallen along racial lines with the defense eliminating four African-American women and the prosecution disallowing four whites.

On Monday, prosecutors used their fourth strike to eliminate a former police officer – a white woman – from the jury pool. The defense used its fourth strike against an African-American woman.

Defense attorney Michael Greene asked three potential jurors if they could evaluate the evidence objectively considering that Kerrick is white and the victim is black. “Does that fact alone mean to any of you that this case has to be about race?” Greene asked.

Kerrick, 29, is accused of unlawfully shooting Jonathan Ferrell, 24. Prosecutors accuse Kerrick of using excessive force against Ferrell after responding to a reported break-in in northeast Mecklenburg County. Kerrick has pleaded not guilty and his attorneys argue that he acted in self defense.

The case comes to trial as a national debate continues over police-related deaths in several cities, some of which have sparked violent demonstrations. Jurors said they could weigh the evidence without bias.

But defense attorneys used a strike against a black woman who wrote “Why shoot an unarmed person so many times?” on a questionnaire filled out by potential jurors.

The jury is composed of four white men, three white women, two Latina women and two black women.

Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin excused a white man for cause. The potential juror said he felt intimidated by the circumstances of the trial.

The lead prosecutor, Special Deputy Attorney General Adren Harris, asked the man about his beliefs toward marijuana and alcohol, referring to upcoming evidence that Ferrell drank alcohol and smoked marijuana on the night of his death. Ferrell’s blood-alcohol level was .06, according to his autopsy. That’s under the legal limit for driving a car. No trace of marijuana was found in his system.

The potential juror, a teacher, told prosecutors he doesn’t think people should use marijuana unless the doctor gives them a prescription.

Issues about jurors’ privacy surfaced again Monday.

In a reversal, Ervin said he again will allow access to questionnaires filled out by potential jurors, backing off his remarks on Friday about limiting that access. Ervin said Monday that the Supreme Court has ruled that the information is public, but he will withhold some biographical details.

The Charlotte Observer, WBTV and Time Warner Cable News 14 filed a motion for access to the questionnaires before jury selection began last week.

Fowler: 704-358-5294, @h_fowl