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Defense Compares Jonathan Ferrell to a ‘Zombie’ and ‘Bull’ in Final Arguments of White Officer Charged with His Death

Jonathan Ferrell

Jonathan Ferrell

Jury deliberations resumed today in the manslaughter trial of a white police officer charged in the shooting death of a Black former Florida A&M University football player in Charlotte, N.C.

Randall Kerrick stands trial for voluntary manslaughter in the September 14, 2013 shooting of Jonathan Ferrell. The trial began slightly more than two weeks ago, and the jury consists of eight women and four men, including seven whites, three African-Americans and two Hispanic jurors.

Ferrell, 24, who had moved to Charlotte from Tallahassee, Fla., to live with his fiancée, was in an accident with her car on a dark stretch of road when he approached a nearby house for help. The homeowner called 911 to report a possible break-in. The police arrived to find Ferrell walking down a road. Officer Kerrick fired 12 shots at the unarmed man, hitting him 10 times.

Judge Robert C. Ervin told the jurors that the verdict depends on whether they decide the officer was acting in self-defense, and whether they believe Kerrick thought it was necessary to kill Ferrell in order to protect himself or another person.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall Kerrick testifies during his voluntary manslaughter trial, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Charlotte, N.C. Kerrick charged in the shooting death of an unarmed black man has testified in his own defense Thursday, following witnesses who quoted him as saying he thought his life was in danger. (Davie Hinshaw/The Charlotte Observer via AP, Pool) Davie Hinshaw / The Charlotte Observer via AP, Pool

Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall Kerrick testifies during his voluntary manslaughter trial, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Charlotte, N.C.  (Davie Hinshaw/The Charlotte Observer via AP, Pool)

The officer claims he had no choice but to shoot, and believed Ferrell would attempt to take his weapon. Officer Thornell Little, who was also on the scene, agreed with that assessment, testifying that had the officers “gotten to a tussle with him, he would’ve probably, you know, tried to go for one of our guns.”

The defense attempted to criminalize the victim in this case. Officer Adam Neal, also on the scene, claimed Ferrell looked “like he was in a zombie state.”

George Laughrum, attorney for the officer, recalled that another officer at the scene had testified that Ferrell approached Kerrick in “a charge and a bull rush.”

Laughrum claimed dents in the homeowner’s door indicate that Ferrell attempted to break in the house, and being unarmed does not mean he could not harm the police officers.

“Unarmed is not harmless, and a body can be a weapon,” Laughrum said. When police found Ferrell, Laughrum said, “it was because he was looking for some other place, some other victim maybe.”


Deouty Attorney General Arden Harris in the voluntary manslaughter trial of Officer Randall Kerrick, who was tried for the killing of Jonathan Ferrell. Photo pool by Davie Hinshaw

However, deputy attorney general, Arden Harris, offered a different perspective.

“It’s easy to write that person off when you can demonize them and say they were up to no good,” he said.

Despite the presence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement shedding light on the killing of unarmed Black people by police, race did not become a factor raised in the trial, even with a Black prosecutor. However, Harris did paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, who said “nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity,” to which the defense told the jurors, “You ought to be offended.”

“Police officers don’t get to shoot someone just because they walk up close to them and they might take their weapon,” prosecutor Teresa Postell said. “If the police shot everyone who got 3 to 5 feet away from them, we’d have a whole lot more dead people.”

Kerrick was suspended from his job without pay.  If convicted, he faces up to 11 years in prison.

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