CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jury selection was set to begin Monday in the trial of a white Charlotte police officer accused of fatally shooting an unarmed black man who was looking for help.
Randall Kerrick is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the September, 2013, death of Jonathan Ferrell, 24, a former Florida A&M football player. If convicted, Kerrick, 28, faces up to 11 years in prison.
Prosecutors say the shooting was a case of excessive force, while defense attorneys say Kerrick acted in self-defense. Kerrick joined the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in 2011, after working as an animal control officer.
Kerrick’s attorneys tried unsuccessfully to get the trial moved, saying extensive publicity made it unlikely the officer could get a fair trial in Mecklenburg County.
His attorneys said interest in the case has increased because of the national debate about race and aggressive police tactics that begin last August with the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In the last few months alone, several high-profile cases have fueled the issue. A white North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer was charged with shooting an unarmed black man in the back after a witness captured the encounter on his cellphone. And there was rioting in Baltimore after the death of a black man who was severely injured while in police custody.
The Charlotte case was set in motion at about 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 14, 2013. After giving a co-worker a ride home, Ferrell drove his car off a road and down an embankment and into some trees.
Ferrell couldn’t find his cellphone to make a call, so he kicked out the rear window of his disabled car and went in search of help. He pounded on the door of a home, but the woman there thought he was a robber and called 911.
Three officers responded to the call, but Kerrick was the only one who fired his gun. Police reports showed Kerrick fired at Ferrell 12 times, hitting him 10 times. Ferrell, who had no criminal record, died at the scene.
At several hearings — including one asking for a change of venue — prosecutors and defenses attorneys gave a glimpse of how they plan to approach the case.
One of his defense attorneys, Michael Greene, told Judge Robert Ervin that prosecutors have described Ferrell as an “unarmed black man” looking for help. But he said they would prove that was not the case.
He said the three officers responded to the scene, thinking they were dealing with a home invasion.
George Laughrun, one of Kerrick’s attorneys, said the testimony will show Ferrell had been smoking marijuana and drinking before the crash and that when he approached another officer he shouted: “Shoot me. Shoot me.”
After the shooting, Ferrell’s family sued the city. Two months ago, Charlotte agreed to pay $2.25 million to settle the lawsuit.