Okla. pharmacist files appeal to murder conviction

AP News
Posted: Oct 01, 2012 5:07 PM
Okla. pharmacist files appeal to murder conviction

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma pharmacist sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting a teenager who tried to rob his store claimed Monday that his case was mishandled and his attorney was ineffective.

Jerome Ersland, 60, made the allegations in an appeal that asks the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to order a new trial and set aside his May 2011 first-degree murder conviction and sentence.

Among other things, the appeal alleges that Ersland's defense attorney, Irven Box of Oklahoma City, did not communicate well with Ersland, urged Ersland to discuss the case with the media prior to his trial and put his own interests above his client's — allegations that Box denied.

"They're totally a pack of lies," Box said. "The insinuations they're making now are all totally disingenuous."

Box estimated he met with Ersland between 75 and 100 times prior to his trial and criticized his former client for giving conflicting statements about the shooting to authorities and members of the media who Box said Ersland contacted against Box's instructions.

"I warned him about talking to the press. Jerome Ersland, to be very kind, was a very difficult client," Box said. "We vigorously defended this case. The results weren't good."

Ersland had been praised for protecting himself and two female co-workers during the May 19, 2009, robbery attempt at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy in a crime-ridden neighborhood in south Oklahoma City.

Prosecutors concluded Ersland was justified when he shot 16-year-old Antwun Parker in the head, knocking him to the ground, and then chased a second would-be robber out of the store. But they said he went too far when he grabbed a second handgun and shot the unconscious boy five more times in the abdomen. A coroner's report said the latter shots killed Parker.

A 12-member jury rejected Ersland's claims of self-defense and unanimously convicted him of murder.

Ersland's supporters reaffirmed their belief that Ersland acted in self-defense and should never have been charged.

"He was threatened. He had a gun put into his face," state Sen. Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City, said during a news conference with Ersland's new attorney, Doug Friesen, in the lobby of the appellate court. "How could that man have been convicted of murder in the first degree? I don't know, but it needs to be fixed."

Friesen criticized Box for relying too heavily on Ersland's self-defense claims and not investigating other aspects of the case, including Ersland's mental history and mental state at the time of the shooting and claims that he suffers from an inner ear disorder called Meniere's Disease and Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism.

Friesen also criticized Box for not calling expert witnesses to testify for the defense, including use-of-force and crime-scene reconstruction experts, and for not allowing Ersland to testify in his own defense.

"Somebody telling Jerome Ersland's story was critical to the defense," Friesen said. "It's the defense's job to present something. Under these sets of facts, I do not believe Jerome got a fair trial."

Box rejected the criticism and characterized the allegations as unprofessional and unethical.

"It's a publicity stunt," he said.

After filing the appellate documents, supporters delivered petitions expressing outrage over the verdict to Gov. Mary Fallin's office. The petitions contained the signatures of about 3,800 people, bringing the total number of signatures on the petition to more than 33,000, said Karen Monahan.

Monahan said supporters hope the petitions will convince officials to investigate Ersland's case.

"It's the only thing I know to do," she said.