A Morganton judge will preside over what stands to be Charlotte’s most explosive court case of 2015: the July 20 manslaughter trial of police Officer Randall Kerrick over the shooting death of Jonathan Ferrell.
The unarmed Ferrell was shot 10 times at close range during a September 2013 confrontation with Kerrick and two other Charlotte-Mecklenburg officers. Ferrell was black. Kerrick is white.
The 2 a.m. killing preceded the deaths of other African-American men at the hands of white police officers last year in St. Louis and in New York that set off a national debate over how minorities fare in the criminal justice system.
But emotions from that backdrop seeped into Kerrick’s initial court appearance last month. At one point, he was cursed in the courtroom and jeered as a killer and a racist as he left the county courthouse. The police officer, who remains suspended without pay, is scheduled to be back in court next week.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office, which will prosecute the case, said Tuesday that the routine Feb. 5 hearing will be canceled. Both sides will be back in court in March, she said.
Robert Ervin has been a Superior Court judge since 2003. The Davidson College and Harvard law school grad is well-known around Mecklenburg County for his calm bench demeanor, even during cases as tense as the legal fight over Charlotte Douglas International Airport in which Ervin wrote an order giving final say to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Last year, Ervin heard the county’s only two death penalty cases.
In March, Justin Hurd was convicted of taking part in the execution-style killings of a Charlotte family in 2008. Yet Ervin’s handling of the case drew compliments from Hurd’s high-profile lead attorney, Alan Bowman of Newark, N.J.
In December, the 11-week trial of Demarcus Ivey ended in a hung jury.
Ervin has been nominated to the federal bench by former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. He is the grandson of former U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin, who headed the Watergate committee whose investigation led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Kerrick is the first Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer accused in connection with an on-duty shooting in at least 30 years. His attorneys say Ferrell’s death was tragic but justified.
Ferrell, a former college football player who had moved to Charlotte to be with his fiancee, wrecked his car after taking a co-worker home. He banged on the nearest door, apparently in an effort to get help. The woman inside, home alone with her young child, called 911 to report a potential break-in.
Ferrell ran up to police after they arrived but did not stop when ordered to, police say. Attorneys for his family say Kerrick used reckless force when he fired 12 shots at the 24-year-old Ferrell.
The family’s civil lawsuit against the officer, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and local government is to begin trial Nov. 2.