The jury in the voluntary manslaughter trial of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick labored through its second full day of jury deliberations Thursday without reaching a verdict. Kerrick is accused of killing an unarmed Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot 10 times two years ago during an encounter with Kerrick and two other officers.
There’s no word from the jurors on how their talks are going. With the weekend looming, a verdict may be coming Friday. Or it may not. For now, we’re dealing with pure speculation. So here are some educated guesses on what will happen next.
Q: What the heck is going on?
A: Nobody said this would be easy. But after more than two weeks of testimony, 50 witnesses and some 350 pieces of evidence, obviously there appears to be a split in the jury room. This panel is a diverse one – seven whites, three blacks and two Latinos. Different backgrounds often mean different opinions of what the evidence shows. Fourteen hours of deliberations is not an unusually long time, particularly for a case this complicated and emotional.
Q: How long will this go on?
A: That’s up to the judge. The Kerrick jury likely has taken a series of votes. Are the numbers moving or staying the same? The request for more evidence Thursday morning may well have been an effort to review the issues that have been causing a split. Jury deliberations lasting a week or more are rare but not unheard of.
Q: When will we know if there’s an impasse?
A: The jury or the judge will let us know. Normally, the foreperson will send a note to the judge, saying that opinions have solidified to the point that it appears no one is willing to change his or her mind.
Q: What happens next?
A: The judge often asks the jury foreperson to advise him on any numerical split. He doesn’t want to know on which side – conviction or acquittal – the votes are lining up. If the jurors say they are irrevocably deadlocked, the judge can give them what is known as a “dynamite charge.”
Q: What’s that?
A: It’s the judge’s best means of blowing up the impasse. He’ll remind jurors that they have a responsibility to the parties and the community to reach a unanimous verdict, and that they should re-examine their views. But he’ll be careful to add that jurors should not abandon heartfelt opinions based on their understanding of the evidence for the sake of a verdict.
Q: Does that work?
A: Sometimes. Often the jury will send out word that they remain deadlocked. Judges can tell them to try again. But they have to be careful or they can expose themselves to an appeal by the defense for coercing a verdict. If the split is 11-1 or 10-2, maybe the judge will decide to give the jury one last try. If the split is more evenly divided, it’s more likely he’ll declare a mistrial.
Q: Mistrial? Is that the equivalent of not guilty?
A: Not even close. The trial may be over, but the charge remains. In other words, no one gets closure. It would be up to the Attorney General’s Office to decide whether to retry Kerrick or drop the case.
Q: How does that work?
A: Attorneys from both sides often meet with jurors after a trial to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence. If prosecutors were to learn that the deadlock was numerically in their favor, odds are they’d bring Kerrick back to court. But if only one or two holdouts kept Kerrick from getting an acquittal, prosecutors may think differently.
Q: Are mistrials common?
A: Retired Judge Richard Boner says they are more frequent in Mecklenburg County than any other place he held court. That likely has something to do with the diversity of the county’s juries.
Last December, in Demarcus Ivey’s capital murder case in Charlotte, one juror held out for an acquittal. She did so despite strong evidence implicating Ivey, including a video of a man, whom prosecutors said was the defendant, executing a robbery victim. Later, the juror thanked the judge for not forcing her to go against her convictions. Prosecutors will retry Ivey, but not as a death-penalty case.
Q: Who was the judge in that case?
A: Robert Ervin, who is also handling Kerrick’s trial.