Charlotte police officer Randall Kerrick concluded two days of intense testimony Friday in his voluntary manslaughter trial. 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 after midnight. The prosecutors spent much of the day casting doubt on Kerrick’s testimony.
One of the defense attorney’s last questions for Kerrick was: is there anything he believes he could’ve done differently? No, Kerrick said.
“When we encountered the suspect, he charged towards officer Little,” Kerrick said. “Little deployed his Taser. At the time, I thought the Taser had hit the suspect and it just didn't stop him. As he charged towards me, he got within arm’s reach and I discharged my firearm.”
“I didn’t know if he had a weapon in his hands at that time,” Kerrick continued. “I didn’t know if he had a weapon anywhere on him at all. He had a good chance to get my gun from me and take it from me.”
The prosecution then highlighted key differences between what Kerrick is saying now in court and what he told detectives two years ago right after the shooting. As prosecutors showed him his original statements, Kerrick responded:
“This was taken just a little bit after I was in a fight for my life. I'm sorry if there's a few inconsistencies.”
The attorneys then walked through those inconsistencies.
For one, Kerrick now says he first started shooting when Ferrell was within three to five feet. Prosecuting attorney Teresa Postell pointed out Kerrick originally told detectives he shot when Ferrell was within 10 feet.
“Yes ma'am, I used the term within 10 feet,” Kerrick said. “Three to five feet is within 10 feet.”
Postell replied, “Do you think it might would've been important if three to five feet was the truth to have told them three to five feet when they asked you to tell them what happened?”
“It was really hard for me to judge distance in that room, the interview room,” Kerrick answered. “But yes, it would be important, yes.”
As Kerrick kept shooting, Ferrell kept coming. Postell asked how they ended up in a ditch together.
“You said you weren't sure if Jonathan pushed you or if he tried to grab you,” she asked, “but you ended up on ground, right?
“Yes ma’am, it happened so fast,” he answered. “I just don’t know.”
“You backed into a really steep ditch, so you fell in the ditch, right?” she said.
“I guess that's possible, but I have no idea,” he replied.
“Now you told them that once you ended up on the ground,” she continued, “you said Jonathan started to advance up your pants leg, right?
“And you cleared that up later, still in same portion of statement here, in your own words, Jonathan was coming up on your lower body, right?
“Yes ma’am, his shoulders about at my waist.”
“If his shoulders are at your waist, then part of his body would be on your upper body, right?”
“I guess around where his head would be.”
“I understand that’s what you’re saying today,” Postell replied. “But that is not what you told them on Sept. 14, right?”
Kerrick admitted that’s not in the original statement.
The attorneys asked even if Ferrell could’ve gotten close enough to reach Kerrick’s gun, wouldn’t it be natural for a person who’s being shot repeatedly to try to push the gun away?
Postell kept returning to the point that Ferrell was unarmed.
“You never said you thought you saw anything in his hands, did you?” she asked.
“No ma'am, “ he replied.
On the same day of the shooting two years ago, CMPD charged Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter. Police defined the charge as “the exercise of imperfect self-defense,” with Kerrick using “excessive force.”
In court, the defense asked another CMPD officer what they’re taught about excessive force. An attorney asked officer William Parks, who arrived after the shooting, what patrol officers are trained to do when a second officer pulls a Taser.
“If there’s another officer there,” Parkes replied, “deadly force backup should be there.”
Prosecuting attorney Steve Arbogast countered that doesn’t mean you need a gun drawn, you just need to be prepared, correct?
“Yes sir,” Parks responded.
“OK, it depends on the circumstances?” Arbogast continued.
“Yeah, everything depends on circumstances,” Park said. “There’s no such thing as ‘always’ or ‘never’ in anything we do. It’s all based on circumstances.”
“And certainly being prepared does not necessarily mean using deadly force, does it?” Arbogast asked.
“No sir, it means being prepared,” Parks answered.
The trial will continue next week. A key thing to watch for is DNA evidence. In the defense’s opening statement, attorneys said they’ll show that Ferrell’s DNA was on the weapon, and that Kerrick’s DNA was on Ferrell’s fingernails.