Only days after a judge ordered a mistrial in the voluntary manslaughter case of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick, his attorneys called on the attorney general’s office not to prosecute their client again.
“Charlotte needs time to heal,” attorney George Laughrun said at a Wednesday morning press conference. “We can hope the attorney general looks at that and says, ‘We gave it our best shot. Let’s move on.’”
Kerrick, 29, remains charged in the 2013 shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell during a predawn encounter east of Charlotte. Ferrell, 24, was unarmed. Kerrick shot him 10 times, testifying at trial earlier this month that he feared for his life. On Friday, Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin declared a mistrial with the jury deadlocked 8-4 to acquit the officer.
State prosecutors have not yet said whether they will retry the case. Ferrell’s family wants the state to put Kerrick on trial again, as does U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro and other critics of the shooting.
Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, said Wednesday that prosecutors “are continuing to review information and discussions are ongoing” on whether to take Kerrick back to court. But no announcement has been planned, she said.
Kerrick remains suspended without pay by CMPD. With the threat of a new trial hanging over their client, Laughrun said it’s too early to say whether he’ll try to rejoin CMPD or some other law enforcement agency.
Alluding to protesters’ calls of “No Justice, No Peace,” co-defense counsel Michael Greene said. Justice “is not an outcome. It’s a process.”
Kerrick, he said, has spent two years in the court system, and two-thirds of his jurors thought he was not guilty. “That’s justice,” he said. “Just because you didn’t get the result that you wanted doesn’t mean it’s not justice.”
Greene and Laughrun said the case – as with other high-profile deaths of African-Americans at the hands of white police officers – has put a damper on law enforcement, with many CMPD officers afraid to pull their firearms or other weapons out of fear of being prosecuted. “It’s a dangerous time to be a police officer,” Laughrun said. “We need to get back to trusting police officers ... trusting citizens.”
Greene said there was “never any question” that Kerrick would testify. “The trial was his time to tell his story, and I think he did that effectively.”
In response to a reporter’s question, the attorneys said they did not set out to vilify Ferrell during the trial. Instead, they said they presented “the entire story” on what happened the night of the shooting.
During testimony, the pair routinely referred to Ferrell, a former college football player, as “the suspect” in a breaking and entering not far from where he was shot. Wednesday, they repeated their assertion that Ferrell “kicked down the door” of a woman’s home. The door, which was presented in court, had dents but was not heavily damaged.
Before the trial, the defense team subpoenaed pawn shop records police could find linked to Ferrell, raising the specter that Ferrell was trying to burglarize the home. During the trial, Laughrun said on several occasions that Ferrell was trying to kick down the door to commit a crime – even though he had wrecked his fiancee’s car, wasn’t wearing shoes, did not have a cell phone and was more than 15 miles from his uptown home.
Greene said the attorneys’ goal was to challenge the pretrial narrative of an unarmed black man who went for help but instead was “gunned down” by police.
“We were never villainizing Mr. Ferrell,” Greene said. “We were simply saying, ‘What happened?’”
The attorneys also:
▪ Accused former Police Chief Rodney Monroe and his top commanders of a rush to judgment in arresting Kerrick. The city later settled a lawsuit by Ferrell’s family for a record $2.25 million. Monroe was on the witness list for the criminal trial but was never called. Given the civil settlement and the outcome of the criminal case, Laughrun said Monroe owes taxpayers further explanation into the reasons and evidence behind Kerrick’s arrest.
▪ Said state prosecutors owe Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Thornell Little an apology. Little was the first officer to confront Ferrell at the eventual shooting scene – pointing and firing his Taser at Ferrell as he walked up. As a witness, Little struggled to remember details and contradicted himself on several occasions. During closing arguments, Assistant Attorney General Teresa Postell referred to Little when she said prosecutors had an ethical obligation not to call witnesses who don’t tell the truth. The comment appeared to draw a strong rebuke from the judge when he pulled Postell and Laughrun aside to talk to them privately.
“The state should be ashamed to call that man a liar,” Laughrun said Wednesday.
▪ Contended that Kerrick feels remorse for what happened but has not talked directly with Ferrell’s mother, Georgia, and other relatives because the charges against him remain pending. “If he were here right now, he’d probably say he wants to give Georgia Ferrell a hug,” Greene said.
Asked about the cost of defending Kerrick over the last two years, Laughrun said he doesn’t know what the final bill will be, adding, “We would represent him for free.”