By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania jury on Thursday acquitted a police officer of all charges in the fatal shooting of a suspect as he lay in the snow, knocked to the ground by her stun gun.
After deliberating for close to 11 hours, the jury acquitted Officer Lisa Mearkle, a veteran of the Hummelstown police department, of third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in the death of David Kassick, 59, of Hummelstown.
A centerpiece of the case against Mearkle, 37, was a videotape recorded by the Taser she used to bring down Kassick in February in the small town about 10 miles (16 km) east of Harrisburg, the state capital.
The jerky video played for the jury in Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas in Harrisburg showed Kassick face down as Mearkle is heard repeatedly shouting "Show your hands!", two gunshots ring out and then a red spot appears on his back.
Prosecutor Johnny Baer said it was proof that Mearkle committed murder.
But defense lawyer Brian Perry said it was proof that she acted out of fear for her life and shows that as Kassick lay on the ground partially immobilized by the stun gun, his left hand appeared to be reaching into his coat, presumably for a gun, and that caused the officer to shoot.
Police later found no weapon on Kassick, who served 10 years in federal prison for a heroin sale that resulted in a death.
The shooting took place after Mearkle attempted to pull over Kassick for an expired vehicle inspection sticker and he fled, driving to the Hummelstown home where he had been staying. He ran from the car, with Mearkle pursuing him on foot and firing her stun gun to bring him down.
Mearkle's arrest for criminal homicide came during a national wave of concern over police shootings of unarmed suspects, many of them African-American. Some of those shootings, such as last spring's killing of Walter Scott, a motorist fleeing after a traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina, were captured on video.
Both Mearkle and Kassick are white.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Bernard Orr)