By Greg Lacour
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) - Prosecutors opening their case in the trial of a North Carolina policeman who killed an unarmed black man said on Monday the defendant had used unnecessary force, and a defense attorney said the shooting was justified.
Officer Randall Kerrick, who is white, is facing a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Jonathan Ferrell, 24, shot to death outside Charlotte before dawn on Sept. 14, 2013.
Ferrell, a former Florida A&M football player, had wrecked his car and gone looking for help in a subdivision outside Charlotte. Ferrell knocked on the door of a young woman, who called 911 because she feared a home invasion.
Three Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers responded and when Ferrell approached them, Kerrick, 29, fired 12 shots at the man, 10 of which hit him.
Attorneys for Kerrick contend Ferrell had ignored orders to stop approaching the officers and to lie on the ground. The other two officers involved in the case, who are black and more experienced than Kerrick, did not draw their weapons.
During opening statements in Superior Court in Charlotte, prosecutors described a grisly scene in which Kerrick fired a volley of shots, then another after Ferrell had fallen at his feet, and two more after Ferrell’s body moved a final time.
Kerrick and another officer failed to provide first aid after the shooting, said prosecutor Adren Harris.
“Who polices the police when they do wrong?” Harris asked jurors, then provided the answer himself: “You.”
Kerrick’s lead attorney, Michael Greene, told jurors that Ferrell was acting aggressively when he knocked on the woman’s door and again when he encountered police. Ferrell’s DNA was discovered on the officer’s gun and beneath his fingernails, Greene said.
“This case is not about race. It never was,” said Greene, who is black. “It’s about choice.”
A toxicology report found no traces of drugs in Ferrell’s system and a blood-alcohol level below the legal limit for driving.
The incident was one in a series of police shootings of unarmed black men that have sparked a fresh debate on race and justice in the United States.
Police charged Kerrick within hours of the shooting. He was the first police officer in Mecklenburg County charged in connection with an on-duty fatal shooting in more than 30 years.
Ferrell’s fiancée Cache Heidel, one of the first three witnesses called by the prosecutors, broke down in tears as she recounted an argument they had shortly before he was killed.
Testimony in the trial, which began two weeks ago with jury selection, is expected to last several weeks.
(Editing by Frank McGurty and Mohammad Zargham)