Mistrial for North Carolina policeman who shot unarmed black man

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 21, 2015 12:55 PM

By Greg Lacour

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) - A North Carolina judge declared a mistrial on Friday when a jury said it was deadlocked after more than three days of deliberations in the trial of a policeman charged in the death of an unarmed black man.

Randall Kerrick, 29, faced a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the September 2013 death of Jonathan Ferrell, 24, a former Florida A&M football player who had wrecked his car on a dark road and was seeking help when he encountered officers. Ferrell ran and Kerrick opened fire at point-blank range and killed him.

Soon after the mistrial was announced, a small group of protesters blocked traffic on a street outside the courthouse, lying face down on the pavement with hands clasped behind their backs.

Kerrick's case is one of several in the United States in which a white police officer has been accused of using unjustified force against an unarmed black man. The killings have touched off a nationwide debate on race and policing.

Prosecutors said they have not decided whether to retry Kerrick again. Charlotte city officials agreed in May to pay Ferrell's family $2.25 million in a civil settlement for wrongful death.

After several votes, the jury of seven whites, three blacks and two hispanics, was split 8-4, though judge Robert Ervin did not reveal which way they were leaning.

The jury began deliberating on Tuesday afternoon after two weeks of testimony.

During the trial, the jury heard from witnesses that Ferrell walked to the nearby home of Sarah McCartney after the accident and pounded on the door seeking help.

McCartney thought Ferrell was trying to break in and called 911.

A dashboard camera video shows Ferrell walking toward police, then running to his left and off screen as Kerrick yells three times, "Get on the ground!"

As the two men fell into a drainage ditch, Kerrick fired 12 shots, 10 of which hit Ferrell.

The case hinges on whether Kerrick used excessive force, or it was reasonable for him to believe Ferrell represented a threat of death or serious injury.

Prosecutors argued that Ferrell made no overt threat to police, and noted that Kerrick fired a second round of shots after Ferrell had fallen at his feet, and then two more after Ferrell's body moved for a final time.

Defense attorneys said Kerrick had no way of knowing whether Ferrell was armed and that Ferrell tried to take Kerrick's gun.

(Writing by David Adams; Editing by Sandra Maler and Grant McCool)