Crime & Courts

Medical examiner details fatal gunshot wounds to Jonathan Ferrell

On Wednesday, jurors heard the flurry of gunshots from Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Wes Kerrick.

A day later, they learned where his bullets went.

Nine shots from the police officer’s .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol hit Jonathan Ferrell in the chest or abdomen. Another struck his left arm.

Five of the bullet wounds were either lethal or potentially so, said Thomas Owens, Mecklenburg County’s chief medical examiner, who performed Ferrell’s autopsy. Three were so severe that Ferrell could have been unconscious in a matter of seconds, Owens said. Cumulatively, the damage was even more profound.

“If this had happened in an emergency room, the person would very likely die before they could stop the bleeding,” Owens said.

Ferrell, 24, was shot to death Sept. 14, 2013, after a brief encounter with Kerrick and two other officers. The former college football player had wrecked his fiancee’s car in the Bradfield Farms community, in east Mecklenburg County. Investigators say when he pounded on a nearby door for help, the woman inside with her infant child thought Ferrell was breaking in. Kerrick and fellow officers Thornell Little and Adam Neal responded to the 911 call. Kerrick was the only one of the three to draw his firearm.

A video taken from Neal’s patrol car shows Ferrell approaching the officers. He appears to run when Little aims and then fires his Taser. Within seconds Ferrell was dead, killed off-camera in a flurry of Kerrick’s gunshots. He was unarmed. In the video, Kerrick can be heard giving Ferrell three orders to get on the ground. There’s a three-second gap between the officer’s first command and his first gunshot.

Prosecutors say Kerrick used excessive force when he shot and killed Ferrell. Owens’ exhaustive testimony – Ferrell’s mother left the courtroom before it began – appeared to be an attempt to drive home that point.

On Thursday, Owens took more than two hours to explain to the jury how Ferrell died. He followed the path of every gunshot, inventorying the resulting damage to the bones, organs and tissue.

In response to a question by lead prosecutor Adren Harris, Owens said he could not provide a sequence of when the 10 shots were fired. But he said he found gunshots with the same trajectory, meaning Kerrick’s gun and Ferrell’s body were in the same relative angle. All 10 were fired from a downward trajectory, which is consistent with Neal’s earlier description of the shooting scene.

Neal, who was on the witness stand for parts of two days, told jurors of running up to find Kerrick and Ferrell struggling on the ground in a ditch. He said Kerrick was trying to get to his feet while Ferrell was crawling up his leg. Under questioning by Kerrick’s attorneys, Neal said Kerrick kept shooting until Ferrell stopped and did not fire again.

Owens testified that any of at least four of the wounds would have incapacitated Ferrell in seconds. “All were pretty rapidly lethal,” he said.

Kerrick’s attorneys, who say Kerrick fired at Ferrell after he charged him and threatened the officer’s safety, tried to use Owens’ findings for their client’s benefit.

Under questioning by Michael Greene, Owens confirmed that he had not found any significant injuries to Ferrell’s brain. An otherwise healthy person, Owens said, “should have no significant change in their normal function.”

Greene replied: “They should hear and understand the word ‘Stop’?”

Later, Greene asked whether, if Owens had suffered “a rapidly lethal” gunshot wound, he could have covered the estimated 30 feet between the witness stand and the defense table.

“Maybe crawling or stumbling,” Owens said.

Are we talking about two seconds or 10 seconds before you’d be incapacitated? Greene asked.

Owens replied that both intervals are considered rapidly lethal, adding, “It's not like a light switch flipped off.”

During his eyewitness testimony over the past two days, Neal acknowledged some inconsistencies with his earlier statements. On Wednesday, he said Ferrell had been erratically pacing as police cars approached him. After watching the video, he acknowledged that Ferrell walked directly up to police.

On Thursday, two more inaccuracies surfaced. During a report he had written within an hour of the shooting, Neal said Ferrell ran after being ordered to stop. In his testimony Thursday, Neal said he only heard police orders after the Taser was fired and Ferrell ran.

He also earlier stated that Ferrell ran directly into Kerrick. On Thursday, he said he lost track of Kerrick from the time Neal saw him climb into his patrol car 130 yards from the shooting scene until he found him in the ditch with Ferrell.

Neal told Harris that he believed Kerrick was stationed somewhere to his right and that Ferrell ran in his general direction.

Staff Writer Langston Taylor contributed.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS

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