Crime & Courts

Many questions to be answered about Jonathan Ferrell’s death

The first week of testimony in the voluntary manslaughter trial of CMPD Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick was both dramatic and tedious, revealing volumes of new detail.

Two of the most compelling pieces of evidence are videos.

A dashcam video played in court showed the first part of Jonathan Ferrell’s fatal 2013 encounter with police, the first time the public has seen it. The medical examiner spent hours cataloging Jonathan Ferrell’s mortal wounds. And Kerrick himself was heard describing the shooting in a video recorded hours after it happened.

The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday with the prosecution continuing to present its case.

Q. What came out of seeing the dashcam video and the recorded CMPD interview with Kerrick?

A. A dashcam video was taken by Officer Adam Neal, the third officer to arrive on the scene just before 3 a.m. in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood east of Charlotte in September 2013.

Ferrell can be seen walking slowly forward, his arms dangling at his side. As he approaches the police cruisers, he momentarily moves his hands toward his waist, as if he might be going to pull up his pants or put his hands in his pockets. But he does neither. He puts his hands back down. About two seconds later, the red dot from a Taser targeting laser appears on his T-shirt. As the Taser probes fly past him, Ferrell runs toward the camera and out of view. Rapid gunshots follow.

In the CMPD interview video, the public heard from Kerrick for the first time. In it, Kerrick chokes up as he answers questions from investigators. He tells them Ferrell came toward him after Officer Thornell Little fired his Taser.

“I was giving loud verbal commands but he just wasn’t paying any attention,” Kerrick says. The dashcam audio includes three loud “Get on the ground” commands from Kerrick just before the gunfire begins. Three seconds elapse from the first command to the first gunshot.

“He kept coming toward me,” Kerrick says on the video interview. “I fired again and in the process I was still backpedaling.”

Kerrick says it seemed as if his firearm wasn’t working. “Somehow I ended up on the ground. I’m not sure if he pushed me or tried to grab me.” Kerrick says Ferrell ended up on top of his feet and lower legs. “There was nothing I could do to get him off of me so I fired again.”

In his interview, Kerrick estimated he fired between five and seven shots. The dashcam captures the sound of 12 gunshots, and the medical examiner identified 10 that hit Ferrell.

Kerrick said he did not see a weapon in Ferrell’s hands but feared he would try to take his gun. He said he first fired when Ferrell was about 10 feet from him.

Q. What happened off-camera?

A. We still don’t know. The confrontation was fast: Barely more than 10 seconds elapse from the moment Ferrell runs out of view of the dashcam until the final shot is fired.

Little, who fired the Taser, has not testified. Neal, who captured the dashcam, testified that he could not see where Kerrick was standing as Ferrell began to run. Neal said he lost sight of Ferrell when he ran out of the dashcam view. Neal ran out of his car to help and said he did not see the first shots. He said he found the two men together in a ditch, Kerrick on his buttocks with his gun in his hand, Ferrell on the lower part of Kerrick’s legs and feet. He said Kerrick had one leg extended, trying to push away from Ferrell, in a move known in police lingo as “shrimping.” Neal said Ferrell crawled forward, pulling up on Kerrick’s body. Kerrick fired a second group of shots, Neal said, and Ferrell quit moving. Then, Neal said, he saw Ferrell’s body move again. Kerrick fired again.

Q. How much longer will the trial last?

A. The judge initially told jurors to expect a month. With the video recording of Kerrick, it appears prosecutors could be nearing the end of their presentation of evidence. They called 24 witnesses to testify during the first week of trial. The prosecution has not yet called any witnesses to point out which parts of Kerrick’s actions they believe broke the law.

After the government wraps up, the defense will likely spend a week or more presenting its case.

Over five days, prosecutors methodically presented evidence collected on the night of the shooting, from the homeowner’s front door to fragments of bullets lodged in Ferrell’s chest.

One of the most disputed moments of the trial occurred after prosecutors showed jurors a photograph of Ferrell’s body, prompting his mother and other women to leave the courtroom. When prosecutors attempted to show jurors more photographs, defense attorneys accused them of trying to “elicit sympathy” for Ferrell.

An emotional moment came when detective Edwin Morales held up items taken from Ferrell’s body – first his fingerprints, hand prints, watch and then the clothes he died in: His black socks. His plaid boxer shorts stained with blood. His gray Levi jeans, also stained with blood.

One of the most dramatic moments came when prosecutor Arden Harris rolled a cart into the courtroom with a large box on top, sealed with paper and tape. Morales slowly cut off the wrappings and turned the front of the display box toward jurors. Inside was Ferrell’s teal T-shirt, reportedly covered with blood and bullet holes.

Q. Will Kerrick take the stand?

A. The defense hasn’t said. Speculation is he will. However, jurors are hearing Kerrick’s account through the recorded interview with investigators so that could suffice.

Q. Does anyone know why Ferrell crashed his fiancee’s car?

A. Prosecutor Arden Harris said in a pre-trial hearing Ferrell may have been fumbling with his phone when the car ran off the road. A co-worker testified that shortly after Ferrell left his house, he texted Ferrell to thank him for the ride. Ferrell could have been trying to read the text; his phone was found on the floor of the wrecked Toyota Camry. The car kept going straight as Reedy Creek Road makes a slight curve a few blocks from his friend’s house. There were no skid marks. The car slowed from going 41 mph as it left the road to about 12 mph as it hit the last tree. The speed limit is 25 mph. Ferrell’s blood alcohol level was 0.06, within the legal limit of 0.08 for driving.

Q. Was Ferrell impaired to the point of irrational behavior, as the defense contends?

A. He had been drinking that night and, according to a co-worker, smoked marijuana. A chemist testified that both can impair a person’s mental state and, depending on the person, his physical state as well. A waitress at Hickory Tavern testified that Ferrell drank two Coors Light beers that night. A state chemist suggested it would likely take more drinks to achieve the blood alcohol level Ferrell had, given that an hour or more had passed. Toxicologists with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner did not test Ferrell’s blood for marijuana. (While no testimony has yet been presented in court, the Observer has previously reported that CMPD sent Ferrell’s blood to an outside lab for a marijuana test, and the results were negative.) Investigators collected an empty Heineken beer bottle and a plastic drug baggy in the area between where Ferrell wrecked and where he died, but there has been no testimony about whether either item was connected to Ferrell.

Q. Did Ferrell kick the homeowner’s door?

A. Sarah McCartney told the 911 dispatcher that a man was kicking down her door. She testified that she saw him standing in a karate position outside her door but conceded she did not actually see him kick the door – only heard what sounded like kicking.

Rachel Clark, a CMPD investigator, found indentations in four spots: One at the bottom left and three in the center to the right of the door handle. She testified that she collected DNA samples from the door latch and handle but on cross-examination by the defense said she did not collect samples from the indentations.

Q. What did Ferrell know about the officers when they approached him?

A. The homeowner can be heard on a 911 recording yelling that she has called 911. There’s no way to know if Ferrell heard her. When police approached the neighborhood, they turned off their blue lights and sirens so Ferrell would not hear them coming. It’s standard procedure, Neal testified, so as not to alert a suspect that police are arriving. Kerrick told investigators he turned off his dashcam at the same time he turned off his blue lights. Neal said he chose to leave his dashcam running.

Kerrick’s car had headlights and a spotlight on when he approached Ferrell.

Prosecutors contend police did not identify themselves. The defense has made a point of asking crime scene investigators whether they could recognize the officer’s vehicles as police cruisers in the dark and several investigators said they could. However, one investigator said a person standing in front of the lights on Kerrick’s car might not have been able to see things behind it.

The audio on the dashcam does not capture any voice communication between Ferrell and the officers until after the Taser has been fired and Ferrell has run off camera.

Q. What’s the significance of the Taser found on the street near Ferrell’s body and a baton found in the grass near his head?

A. The Taser likely belonged to Little, who fired his Taser at Ferrell. Kerrick gave his Taser to investigators when they interviewed him later that day and Neal said he never drew his Taser. The baton could belong to Kerrick. Kerrick turned over his baton holster to investigators, but there was no mention of the baton.

Q. Did Ferrell assault Kerrick?

A. Kerrick filed a police report after the shooting stating that he had been assaulted. In an interview with police a few hours after the shooting, he said he couldn’t recall whether Ferrell punched him. Neal testified that he did not see Ferrell throw any punches.

An EMT testified that when he arrived, Kerrick was slumped over in his patrol car. He said Kerrick told him he had been hit. He said Kerrick had a laceration on the inside of his mouth and a red mark on his cheek. A second EMT said the right side of Kerrick’s face was swollen. He said the injuries were consistent with being struck but conceded they could have been caused by a fall.

Elizabeth Leland: 704-358-5074, @elizabethleland

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