Thursday completed the fourth day of testimony in the voluntary manslaughter trial for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick, who is accused of wrongfully killing Jonathan Ferrell in a late-night encounter in 2013. For a review of the basic facts of the case and links to prior reports, scroll to the bottom.
5 p.m.: Pathologist says, ‘Anything is possible’
Dr. Thomas Owens, who performed the autopsy on Ferrell, gave lengthy – and often complicated – explanations of how the angles of the bullet wounds suggest the relative position of Kerrick and Ferrell to each other.
Though he revealed a lot of information about the wounds, he was unable to give definitive answers about how they occurred.
Owens said he could not calculate the distance from where the shots were fired. He could not say the order in which the shots were fired. He could not say whether Kerrick and Ferrell were standing up or on the ground – only the relative position of one to the other.
All nine shots to Ferrell’s chest, Owens said, traveled downward through his body. The defense asked whether that would be consistent with Ferrell crawling on Kerrick while being shot. It’s possible, Owens said.
“Anything is possible,” he said. “... We don’t know the exact position of each of them at every single moment during that interaction.”
One thing he does know for certain: Ferrell died of multiple gunshot wounds to his chest. Some of the wounds would have rapidly incapacitated Ferrell because they pierced through his organs and major blood vessels; others were not as severe.
Court adjourned at 5 p.m. and will resume Friday morning at 9:30.
3 p.m.: Combination of gunshot wounds was rapidly lethal
Jonathan Ferrell’s adrenaline may have staved off the symptoms of being shot for a few seconds, a pathologist testified.
“Could he have fallen out within five or 10 seconds? Yes,” said Dr. Thomas Owens of the Mecklenburg Medical Examiners’s Office. “Could he have continued to be fighting or struggling for 30 to 60 seconds? Yes.”
Owens described each of 10 wounds in great detail for the jury, explaining various internal body parts and how much damage and bleeding each bullet caused. Though Owens listed the wounds from one to 10, he said the order did not necessarily reflect the order in which the bullets hit Ferrell.
Four wounds would have been lethal within 30 to 60 seconds or a little longer, another over 30 minutes to an hour, Owens said.
The effect of some of the bullets would have been so rapid that even if Ferrell had been in an emergency room, the bleeding could not have been stopped in time to prevent him from dying, Owens said.
“This is going to be a very rapidly and lethally incapacitating group of wounds,” he said.
Owens pointed out the wounds, visible in photographs of Jonathan Ferrell’s body as “pinkish, red areas”:
(1) Top of right shoulder, about 8 inches below top of head, moving downward from front to back.
(2) Front of right shoulder, closer to collarbone, about 9 inches below top of head.
(3) Upper right chest, a little below the clavicle. The bullet entered his chest cavity, hitting his right lung and passing through a large blood vessel and part of his airway, then through his esophagus and aorta, moving from front to back and right to left, barely hitting the lower part of his left lung. It lodged near his 10th rib. This bullet caused a lot of bleeding.
(4) Center of chest, scraping both his heart and right lung, moving front to back and down, hitting his diaphragm and passing through his liver, then out the back of his chest, fracturing the 11th rib in the back. The bullet also caused a lot of bleeding.
(5) Nape of neck, on left side. The bullet lodge in the back muscle.
(6) Lower throat area, where the collarbone meats the breast bone. No soot or stippling. The bullet fractured his clavicle, then perforated an artery, causing a lot of bleeding. It then grazed his trachea and hit his esophagus. The bullet fractured his 5th thoracic vertebrae.
(7) Located just below the sixth bullet. It fractured the front side of his first rib and hit his aortic arch and the main blood vessel to his left lung, then traveled to his back, fracturing the back side of his sixth rib.
(8) Left upper chest. No soot or stippling. The bullet fractured his second rib, then passed through his left lung, lodging behind his 11th rib.
(9) Front part of upper arm, the biceps. No soot or stippling. Some bleeding, but not heavy.
(10) Left side of abdomen a few inches above his belly button. The bullet passed through several loops of bowel, through some muscle and into his lower back/upper buttocks. No soot or stippling.
12:35 p.m.: Nine bullets lodged in Ferrell’s body, one in arm
Dr. Thomas Owens, a forensic pathologist, said nine bullets hit Ferrell’s body and one hit his left arm. Of the nine bullets in his body, none exited, Owens said. The bullet in his left arm partially exited.
Owens noted a small scrape on Ferrell’s forehead, and one on his right lower forearm and wrist (where Ferrell was handcuffed).
Owens had described two of the wounds – both in Ferrell’s right shoulder – when court recessed for lunch at 12:35 p.m.
12:00 p.m.: Pathologist who performed autopsy testifies
To see what Jonathan Ferrell was doing in the seconds before his death, a forensic expert extracted still images off a dashcam video and magnified them.
Christopher Perez of CMPD said he focused on Ferrell’s hands. He didn’t say, and wasn’t asked, about what he discovered.
Dr. Thomas Owens, a forensic pathologist with the Mecklenburg Medical Examiner’s Office, took the witness stand shortly before noon. Owens performed the autopsy on Ferrell’s body.
Ferrell’s mother, Georgia, left the courtroom before Owens showed jurors several graphic photographs of the bullet wounds on her son’s body.
11 a.m.: Doors with possible blood unveiled in courtroom
Prosecutors showed jurors two huge – literally – pieces of evidence: The white door and screen door from the house where Ferrell went after wrecking his fiancee’s car.
CMPD Investigator Rachel Clark pointed out possible blood droplets on both doors and indentations at the bottom of the solid white door. The homeowner said she heard Ferrell banging and kicking at the door. She thought he was trying to break in and so she called 911.
Clark was still on the witness stand when court recessed for its morning break.
10:20 a.m.: Officer Neal grilled on witness stand
Officer Adam Neal confirmed on cross-examination that he told investigators in 2013 Jonathan Ferrell was “clawing” with his hands at Randall “Wes” Kerrick.
In testimony Wednesday, Neal described Ferrell as “crawling.”
Defense attorney Michael Greene picked apart Neal’s testimony, pointing out differences between what he said a few hours after the shooting and what he testified Wednesday in response to questions from prosecutors.
Again and again, Greene read portions of the 2013 interview and asked:
“Do you recall that?”
“Yes, sir,” Neal replied.
In 2013, Neal told investigators that Ferrell might have been high on “bath salts or mushrooms or something.” He also said in 2013 that Ferrell was charging “hard and fast” at Kerrick.
Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin told jurors they can compare the statements for consistency and inconsistency to help evaluate Neal’s credibility – but told them not to consider the earlier statements for their content.
On re-direct by prosecutor Adren Harris, Neal said he gave no commands to Ferrell and he heard no commands from his fellow officers before Ferrell began running.
He also confirmed that he never pulled his weapon and told investigators that he planned to put Ferrell in “a sleeper hold” (choke hold).
“Are you ever thinking about pulling your weapon?” Harris asked.
A jury will decide whether Kerrick used excessive force when he fired 12 shots at Ferrell, or whether he was justified because he thought Ferrell posed a deadly threat.
The 12-member jury has two people who are Latino, three African-American and seven white. Eight are women and four are men. The alternate jurors are all white, and consist of one man and three women.
If convicted, Kerrick faces three to 11 years in prison. He has been on unpaid suspension since the shooting.
According to police, Ferrell wrecked his fiancee’s car on his way home after an outing with friends and sought help at a house in a neighborhood east of Charlotte. The homeowner, afraid someone was trying to break in, called 911. Kerrick and two other officers responded, and the deadly confrontation ensued.
Ferrell, 24, had moved to Charlotte from Florida to be with his fiancee. He was a former scholarship football player for Florida A&M University. He was working at both Best Buy and Dillard’s at the time of his death.
To read previous reports from inside the courtroom:
Also reporting from the courthouse: Hayley Fowler, Michael Gordon and Langston Taylor.