Jurors Speak: Dashcam Video Key, Foreman Says; Defense Strategy Offends One Juror
By Mark Washburn and Steven Harrison
Jurors in the trial of Randall “Wes” Kerrick, the white police officer accused of killing an unarmed black man, confronted race at the beginning of their deliberations last week.
They agreed to keep it out of their decision-making, said Bruce Raffe, the foreman. He was one of three jurors interviewed Saturday, a day after a mistrial was declared.
“I felt like we could keep race as far from this as possible, and we all said this wasn’t about race,” he said.
Of the eight jurors who favored acquitting Kerrick in the death of Jonathan Ferrell, one was black, one Hispanic and six white, Raffe said. Of the four favoring conviction, two were black, one Hispanic and one white.
On the first day of deliberations, Raffe said, the jury took an anonymous vote, writing down guilty or not guilty on slips of paper and placing them in a bowl. When the results were read, there were seven votes for acquittal, five for conviction.
By the end of deliberations, the vote was 8-4 in favor of acquittal after a white female juror changed her mind, Raffe said.
Raffe said he was steadfast in his belief Kerrick was not guilty and believed most of the other not guilty votes were similarly committed.
Raffe said he was leaning toward acquittal when the prosecution finished calling witnesses and the defense was to begin.
Although he thought Kerrick’s defense team did a good job cross-examining the state’s witnesses, the most important piece of evidence to him was the dashcam video, which showed Ferrell walking toward the police that night in September 2013, then rapidly advancing toward Kerrick when a Taser is aimed at him.
“It resonated with everyone,” Raffe said.
“We saw it 15 times on the first day. We also took it back into deliberations. We felt like it was an aggressive move towards the police officer. To me, he wasn’t doing anything other than making an aggressive assault.”
Raffe said he and some other jurors felt the dashcam video “was the only truly solid evidence.”
He said he believed Ferrell had other options rather than moving toward the officers, like sitting down or running another way.
Part of the trial focused on whether Kerrick should have pulled his gun after his fellow officer pulled out his Taser.
But Raffe said he was swayed by testimony that Kerrick had been instructed earlier by a supervisor that if one officer draws a Taser, a backup officer should pull his gun.
“I believe he did everything he could not to pull the trigger.”
Moses Wilson’s view was the converse. He wrote a question on the dry-erase board in the jury room:
“What did Jonathan Ferrell DO to warrant death? 10 shots.”
Wilson, one of the four jurors who voted to convict Kerrick, said he never got a satisfactory answer to that question through the three-week trial.
Wilson, 67, the only African-American male on the jury, moved to Charlotte in 2008 after retiring from a career as a court constable in Boston.
Ferrell on trial
Wilson said he was offended by a defense strategy that seemed to make Ferrell into a villain in the fatal encounter two years ago.
“Randall Kerrick wasn’t on trial,” said Wilson, a Vietnam veteran who served as a medic. “You know who was on trial? Jonathan Ferrell.”
Kerrick’s attorneys sought to demonize Ferrell, said Wilson – pointing out he’d had a few beers, smoked some marijuana before crashing his car the night of the shooting and noting that he wasn’t able to stay in college.
Wilson said that Ferrell held down a job and was invited to join his friends, showing he was a sociable man.
“Putting Jonathan Ferrell on trial because he did not do or see or act the way the defense said he should act when he sees a police officer demeans the role of police officers in Charlotte,” said Wilson. “People should not be afraid to walk up to a police officer.”
Wilson said Ferrell may have been approaching officers to ask a question. “He wasn’t given a chance,” he said.
“Jonathan Ferrell should not have been on trial. What did he do?”
Night of mistakes
Wilson said the night of Ferrell’s death was full of judgment errors by all concerned.
Wilson said that Ferrell’s mistakes included getting lost and crashing the car, leaving his cellphone in the car and stumbling to a house, where he pounded on a door and frightened the homeowner.
Mistakes on the other side, Wilson said, included police arriving to a priority 1 call thinking there was a home invasion in progress, failing to leave dashboard cameras engaged and Kerrick pulling his gun on an unarmed man, leading to the fatal shooting.
“Mistake upon mistake upon mistake that ended in death,” said Wilson.
After hearing the evidence, Wilson said he became convinced that Kerrick lost control and fired the 12 shots, 10 of which hit Ferrell.
“Those who call him a racist killer are wrong, too,” said Wilson. “It’s not like that. He lost it.”
Wilson said jurors agreed that Kerrick’s actions were intentional and caused Ferrell’s death. But they disagreed on whether his actions constituted excessive force.
“A police officer can use force on you that matches your force,” Wilson said. “Did the force rise up to the need?”
When jurors left the jury room for the last time Friday to report a deadlock, Wilson’s question was still written on the board.
“My question was not answered,” he said, “and that’s why I voted guilty.”
Another juror reached Saturday, who would not say which way she voted, expressed regret that the case ended in mistrial.
“I feel bad that as a jury we could not come together one way or the other for the families,” said the juror, who asked to remain anonymous. “All of us were confirmed in our beliefs, so I don’t think we failed as jurors.”
She said she was grateful that the city was peaceful after the mistrial, “but I don’t want people to think that just because it was a mistrial that it’s over.”