By Greg Lacour
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) - A white North Carolina police officer told jurors in his manslaughter trial on Thursday that he shot and killed an unarmed black man in 2013, because he feared for his life.
"No matter what I did, he wouldn’t stop," Randall Kerrick said. "He was doing everything he could to get to my gun," he added, teary-eyed and his voice shaking.
"I thought I was going to die."
Prosecutors say Kerrick, 29, used unnecessary force when he shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell, 24, outside Charlotte before dawn on Sept. 14, 2013.
Kerrick's defense attorney has told the court the shooting was justified.
Ferrell, a former Florida A&M football player who outweighed the officer by roughly 60 pounds, never reached the gun, Kerrick told jurors.
From "an arm’s length" away, Kerrick fired at Ferrell 12 times. Ten of the shots hit, according to trial evidence.
The shooting was one in a series of police killings of unarmed black men that have drawn attention to issues of race and justice in the United States.
Kerrick has been on unpaid leave from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department since the shooting.
Ferrell had crashed his car after a night out with friends. Unable to retrieve his cell phone from the wreck, he walked to a nearby house and knocked on the door.
The woman who lived there called 911, fearing a home invasion. Kerrick was one of three officers who responded but the only one who pulled his gun.
Kerrick testified that when he arrived at the woman’s home, he and another officer, Thornell Little, encountered Ferrell.
After Little missed with his Taser, Kerrick said, Ferrell ran toward him, ignoring orders to “Get on the ground!” three times.
He said Ferrell knocked him back into a drainage ditch and reached for his gun.
"I had absolutely no idea whether he had a weapon on him or not," Kerrick said.
His testimony will continue on Friday.
During opening statements in Superior Court in Charlotte last week, 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's defense lawyer said Ferrell’s DNA was discovered on the officer’s gun and beneath his fingernails.
A toxicology report found no traces of drugs in Ferrell’s system and a blood-alcohol level below the legal limit for driving.
(Editing by David Adams and Mohammad Zargham)