Inside the Courts

Deputies stay cool in Kerrick spotlight

ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Law enforcement types often have this thing about their first names. They tend to prefer initials only.

Check out their badges: S. Thomas. S. Dickason. M. Burchfield. E. Johnson. B. Venant. J. Erb. B. Ellis. Z. Morton. W. Williams.

These are the deputies who kept watch over for the last month over Courtroom 5370, home to the voluntary manslaughter trial of Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick. Last week, the judge ordered a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury.

Suffice to say, many of the people who attended the trial had differing opinions about the officer’s guilt or innocence. But those I talked with were unanimous in their appreciation of the job the deputies did.

I’ve been in courtrooms where fights broke out, and relatives of the victim charged the accused. Kerrick himself reportedly received death threats, and he entered and exited under armed guard.

Yet his trial, along with the people it drew, operated with a striking sense of civility and good will. The deputies not only respected that, they enhanced it.

Granted, during a combined four weeks of jury selection and testimony, Courtroom 5370 had a handful of minor confrontations. Almost all involved the same bystander. One day, with little more than a slight change in air pressure, two deputies led the gentleman out of the courthouse. He never came back.

The mistrial set off demonstrations in several parts of the city. In the courtroom, the judge’s decision drew disappointment from both sides of the aisle. But everybody behaved.

A tone had been set – thanks in part to the guys with the initialed first names.

Blind spots

The other day on a lunchtime walk, I spotted Liz Gay, the wife of Kenan Gay, the defendant in the second-most-watched trial of the past year in Charlotte.

Kenan Gay was charged with second-degree murder in 2012 when he threw a drunken Robb Kingston out of Ed’s Tavern after he tried to kiss Gay’s wife. Kingston wound up in the path of a passing car on Park Road.

At trial, the jury found Gay not guilty, largely because cameras outside the bar that could have shown whether Kingston stumbled into the street or was thrown there were blocked by umbrellas and parked cars. “We could never determine what happened,” the foreman said.

I thought about the Gays after a Kerrick juror explained her frustration with the dashcam video that caught the confrontation between Jonathan Ferrell and police. It did not show the last seconds before Kerrick shot him. That left jurors with only police accounts to consider.

Two cases, both fascinating, swung because the cameras did not go where the jurors needed them most. Reasonable doubt took over from there.

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