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WFAE's coverage of the case of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Randall Kerrick charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of Jonathan Ferrell. The court case ended in a mistrial.

Complicated, Differing Accounts Unfold After Day 1 Of Kerrick Shooting Trial

Davie Hinshaw
Charlotte Observer

Attorneys in the Randall Kerrick trial gave significantly different accounts in their opening statements Monday of the events that led up to the former CMPD officer shooting and killing 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell two years ago.

A complicated story unfolded as the defense, prosecution and witnesses gave their takes on what happened the night Ferrell, a former Florida A&M football player, was killed. The prosecution admitted that Ferrell had a couple of beers and smoked marijuana with a friend on that fatal night, but painted a picture of someone simply looking for help when he knocked on the door of Sarah McCartney in the middle of the night. Ferrell had been in an accident. McCartney thought he was a burglar and called 911, which prosecutor Adren Harris found unwarranted.

At no time did Jonathan make any threatening statements to Ms. McCartney, did Jonathan brandish any weapons, did he try to force his way in the home,” Harris told the jury.

On the stand, McCartney said she never heard Ferrell ask for help‑-although an earlier statement was presented to her that showed she said he asked her to come back when she closed the door and he continued knocking.

McCartney was on the stand for about two hours and told the court that although she saw no weapon and Ferrell did not try to force his way into her home, he looked mad and angry to her.

"I was terrified and worried about my child. I was looking for something to protect myself,” she said.

Prosecutor Harris says Ferrell was down the street from McCartney’s home, still seeking help, when police arrived. He says when Ferrell approached the police on the sidewalk, one officer had a Taser aimed at him and Kerrick was pointing a gun. He says Ferrell became afraid and ran between the officers and was shot initially four times by Kerrick.

"Jonathan suffering multiple gunshot wounds, he falls. The defendant fires six more into Jonathan and  then he fires two more," said Harris.

But the defense argued that the officers were right to have the Taser and gun pointed at Ferrell because he matched the description of the 911 burglar call and they didn’t know if he was carrying a weapon. Defense attorney Michael Greene says Ferrell grabbed for Kerrick’s gun. He says Ferrell’s DNA is on the weapon and Kerrick’s DNA was on Ferrell’s fingernails, proving he was aggressive and that the shooting was justified, “because the suspect continued to kick to struggle. Officer Kerrick did not fire after the resistance stopped.”

The trial has been compared to shootings in other cities involving white police and unarmed African-American men, but Greene told jurors this is not a case about race, but of a victim making bad choices when he presented himself to McCartney and police.

"The evidence will show the suspect didn’t act responsibly. You didn’t hear him say, 'Excuse me officers, I’ve been in an accident. I could use some assistance,'" said Greene.

The defense also brought up questions about Ferrell’s character, such as the fact that he didn’t finish school and was slow to follow up on career plans. His fiancé, Cache Heidel, a local CPA, told the court that she paid most of their bills because Ferrell was saving his money to return to school. The defense also questioned her about their drinking habits and an argument the two had the day he was killed. Heidel became emotional but recovered to defend Ferrell.

"He was always very calm. I was the agressor, so I would always try to ignite and I would be the one fussing and  he wouldn’t come back at me. He actually smiled, I don't know if that was to pacify me, but he just laughed it off," said Heidel.

Also testifying was John Freeze, a local firefighter who was the first emergency official on the scene after the shooting. He told the court that Ferrell had no pulse when he examined him lying in a ditch. Freeze says he also went to the vehicle where Kerrick was sitting with his hands on his knees to see if he was injured.

"He said that he’d been hit. There was a red mark on the right side of his cheek and there was a cut on his cheek inside of his mouth. There was a little bit of dried blood on the corner of his mouth," said Freeze.

When Freeze left the scene, he says he saw a tail light of a car in the woods and with a flashlight, walked through the bushes. There he says he found Ferrell’s car, with the front and passenger doors blocked by trees and the back window broken. His testimony continues today.