Crime & Courts

Photographs of shooting scene trigger commotion in trial of CMPD officer

The second day of testimony in Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick’s voluntary manslaughter trial featured a recurring battle over photos of the bloodied and handcuffed man he shot.

Attorneys on both sides jousted throughout the day over whether the photos of Jonathan Ferrell, whom Kerrick shot 10 times on Sept. 14, 2013, illustrated the crime scene that night or were a prosecution ploy to influence the jury.

Twice during the day, the display of the photos on an overhead screen led to processions by Ferrell’s loved ones out of Courtroom 5370. Monday, the dead man’s mother, Georgia Ferrell, held her seat when the first photograph of his body was shown. Tuesday, she was the first to leave, with others quickly joining her.

Eventually, that drew the ire of Kerrick’s lawyers. At one point, attorney George Laughrun asked that an image of Ferrell’s body being shown to the courtroom be taken down while a clerk made a copy for evidence purposes. Co-counsel Michael Greene later told Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin that the photos were repetitious and aimed at pulling “the heart strings of the jury,” particularly when jurors couldn’t help but see Ferrell’s family members leaving the room.

“This is a voluntary manslaughter case,” Greene said. “We do expect a picture of the (dead man). But how many?”

Lead prosecutor Adren Harris said each photo illustrated an angle of the crime scene that was important for the jury to see.

Ervin agreed, but only to a point. He removed several photos the state wanted to show. He settled another debate by twice taking scissors and snipping out Ferrell’s body from the image being disputed.

Otherwise, the day in court bogged down in the minutia of the prosecution trying to build its case. It was meticulous, as dozens of pieces of evidence were revealed to the jury and logged into the court record, with little to no explanation of what it all meant. Sometimes the process became so plodding that by afternoon a few jurors seemed glassy-eyed.

But by the end of the day, the brick-by-brick foundation of the prosecution’s case had taken on a cumulative power, even if the key question in this case remained unaddressed: Did Kerrick overreact when he shot the unarmed Ferrell 10 times in a neighborhood east of Charlotte? Or did the officer fear for his life?

The details revealed Tuesday brought an exactitude to what has become a familiar story – how Ferrell wrecked his car after giving a friend a ride home; how a woman called 911 after Ferrell pounded on her door; and how he was shot as he ran toward Kerrick.

Ferrell’s car was traveling at least 41 mph when it left a curving and pitch-black Reedy Creek Road and hurtled into the woods, said Robert Gormican, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police accident specialist. The speed limit was 25 mph. The Toyota sedan snapped a tree, which shattered the car’s back window.

Gormican said Ferrell walked just under 200 yards in his sock feet to bang on the door of Sarah McCartney’s home. From there, it was 413 feet to where he died near the Bradfield Farms pool.

Crime scene investigators found Ferrell’s cellphone in the floorboard of the wreckage. They also recovered a pocket knife, the cap from a bottle of malt liquor, two pairs of shoes, CDs and lip balm. Outside the driver’s door in the smashed undergrowth: the green Polo ballcap Ferrell was wearing when he partied with friends that night.

The prosecution took the same exacting approach with the shooting scene. While Ervin blocked some photos, Harris took more than two hours to provide an inventory of what investigators found where police and Ferrell met.

Defense attorneys say that encounter lasted no more than seven seconds. But the violence involved was revealed with the contents of dozens of evidence bags – empty Smith &Wesson shell casings stretching from Kerrick’s patrol car to Ferrell’s body; a Taser lying on the pavement not far from where Ferrell fell; a bullet found under his head as he lay face down in the ditch.

The defense says Kerrick opened fire after an erratic Ferrell plowed into him, then fought for his gun. Prosecutors say Ferrell was running for his life when he collided with Kerrick after another officer tried to use a Taser on him.

Tuesday, prosecutors raised the possibility that Ferrell never saw Kerrick. Crime scene investigator Karen Nyx took photos of the shooting scene two years ago. One showed Kerrick’s cruiser that night with its headlights and a spotlight on. Ferrell could have been looking into all three.

Harris asked Nyx if all the lights would make it hard for someone to see.

“Things behind the lights can fall into darkness,” she replied.

Staff writers Hayley Fowler and Langston Taylor contributed.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS

Related stories from Charlotte Observer