The right call on Kerrick, again

The Observer editorial board

People pray at Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church after a mistrial was declared Aug. 21 at the Randall Kerrick trial.
People pray at Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church after a mistrial was declared Aug. 21 at the Randall Kerrick trial. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

After months of preparation and weeks of trial proceedings, prosecutors were unable to convince a 12-person jury that Officer Randall Kerrick was guilty of voluntary manslaughter when he shot Jonathan Ferrell almost two years ago in Charlotte. In fact, only one-third of the jury ultimately agreed.

While lawyers and non-lawyers alike might have had some nits to pick with how the prosecution tried the case, there were no overwhelming deficiencies. Prosecutors simply did not have enough evidence to convince enough jurors that Kerrick was guilty.

For that reason, the N.C. Attorney General’s office announced Friday that it won’t retry Kerrick. It’s the right decision.

There’s a simple calculation behind the difficult choice of re-trying cases: Can prosecutors do enough differently to produce a more favorable verdict?

In a letter to Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray, senior deputy attorney general Robert Montgomery said that prosecutors were “able to introduce the relevant evidence and examine the witnesses, including the defendant.” Jurors were able to fully consider the details of the case, he added.

His message: Everyone did what they were supposed to do.

Does that mean the case never should have been pursued in the first place? It does not. Prosecutors had a legitimate legal argument that Kerrick violated CMPD policy and overreacted in shooting an unarmed Ferrell in September 2013. It was enough to convince some jurors. The result was a hung jury, not an acquittal.

Bringing the case to trial also allowed all of Charlotte’s communities to see the evidence and examine the prosecution and defense cases. Unlike cities where police shootings never went to trial, the public here had the opportunity to agree or disagree with a jury’s conclusions. Justice – or injustice – wasn’t delivered behind closed doors.

What’s clear now to most everyone is that absent some new and jarring evidence, trying the case again would be impractical. It would reopen wounds. It would rekindle divisions. It would likely produce a similar result.

The attorney general was right to realize it.