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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.

Inside The Closing Arguments And Judge's Instructions For Jury In CMPD Kerrick Trial

Davie Hinshaw
Charlotte Observer

The fate of CMPD officer Randall Kerrick is now in the hands of 12 jurors. The prosecution and defense gave their closing arguments Tuesday on whether Kerrick is guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Two years ago, the white police officer fatally shot Jonathan Ferrell, an unarmed African-American who had wrecked his car and banged on a stranger’s door in the middle of the night. WFAE's Michael Tomsic was at the courthouse and joins Morning Edition host Marshall Terry to discuss.

The concept of "excessive force" has played a big role in this case, from the initial charges through the trial. How does it fit into what the jury is deciding?

The law is straightforward here. If Kerrick used excessive force, then he's guilty.

The prosecution has laid it out pretty simply: Kerrick ended up with a bruise and a small cut on his face, while Ferrell ended up dead with 10 gunshot wounds.

The defense counters that Ferrell was rapidly advancing toward Kerrick, and that Kerrick feared for his life.

So how does the jury decide whether what Kerrick did was excessive?

By law, the definition is using more force than reasonably appeared to the defendant to be necessary at the time of the killing. 

Prosecuting attorney Teresa Postell told the jurors they have two very important clues for determining what is reasonable in this case: how the two other officers with Kerrick reacted.

"One of them deployed a Taser," she said. "The other one, even after the Taser didn't work, was going to go hands-on. Neither one of those other two officers ever even unholstered their firearm. What would a reasonable person do? Go hands-on."

As in, fight with your hands.

How did the defense respond?

That the force was necessary because Ferrell kept advancing as Kerrick kept shooting.

Defense attorney George Laughrun says it's ridiculous to say Kerrick should've put his gun back away as Ferrell came toward him. And Laughrun pointed out all this happened in a matter of seconds.

"Does that make sense for this officer to reholster his firearm," Laughrun said, "and go hands-on with somebody who has blown through a Taser, who is obviously a suspect in a crime of violence – a breaking and entering, felony charge, burglary, occupied by somebody - who has failed to heed commands, who has failed to stop? Does it makes sense for an officer to reholster his firearm and say, ‘Hey buddy, let’s fight'?"

The defense referred to Ferrell as a burglar in their closing arguments. Most of the testimony up until closing arguments had stopped short of that. It had painted Ferrell as someone acting erratically after wrecking his car.

The dash cam video was also a very big part of this trial. What did both sides say about that in closing arguments?

There was only one dash cam video, and both sides, in fact, used it as part of their final case.

The prosecution used it to show at no point is there a weapon in Ferrell's hands, and you can see his hands. He's not yelling. He's not smacking his thighs or yelling "shoot me," as some defense witnesses have said he did.

The defense counters with the fact that it's just one camera from one car. It doesn't capture the entire episode. It doesn't capture the shooting. And just because it's not on there, doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Finally, what instructions did the judge give the jurors to consider as they're deliberating?

Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin told them they have two options: guilty or not guilty of voluntary manslaughter. All 12 of them have to agree beyond a reasonable doubt. And he laid out real specifically what a reasonable doubt is.

"A reasonable doubt is doubt based on reason and common sense, arising out of some or all of the evidence that has been presented, or the lack or insufficiency of the evidence as the case may be," Judge Ervin said. "Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that fully satisfies or entirely convinces you of the defendant’s guilt."

Jurors will resume their deliberations this morning at 9:30. And, of course, we will have full coverage here on WFAE once the verdict is reached.